Endemic birds face highest risk in fall months

Endangered sea and forest birds endemic to Kaua‘i were the topic of a lecture by Andrea Erichsen and Pauline Roberts as part of the Kaua‘i Museum ‘Ohana Saturday.

Erichsen, who coordinates the Kaua‘i Seabird Habitat Conservation Project, explained that the project is a tool for saving seabirds such as Newell’s shearwaters and the Hawaiian petrel.

“Newell’s shearwaters have 80 percent of their population on Kaua‘i,” Erichsen said. “Their presence in Hawai‘i predates the arrival of the Polynesians.”

Erichsen went on to explain that the seabirds are pelagic, which means they spend their entire lives at sea and come to land to reproduce. But because of threats such as the glare of lights on buildings and homes, the shearwaters need some help.

The peak season of “fallout,” which is the grounding of seabirds due to collisions with walls and other structures, occurs in October and November. About 200 shearwaters have been rescued in October alone — and many by children, according to Erichsen.

“Ninety percent of the fallen birds are healthy and fine and released within 48 hours,” Erichsen said. “We have rehabilitated over 80 birds and that is pretty significant when talking about an endangered species.”

To help prevent fallout at home, Erichsen recommended shielding or turning off lights, keeping the curtains closed at night and keeping pets inside.

Though many are not endangered, Pauline Roberts, coordinator of the Kaua‘i Forest Recovery Project, spoke about the possible extinction Kaua‘i’s forest songbirds are facing. The akeke‘e and the akikiki, both endemic to Kaua‘i, are encountering all-time lows to their populations.

“The total population for the akeke‘e is 3,000,” Roberts said. “And that is all in the Koke‘e area. There are an estimated 1,500 akikiki, and those numbers are decreasing steadily.”

The habitats of these birds are threatened by feral pigs, invasive plants and mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and avian pox. The American Bird Conservancy filed petitions on behalf of the birds to be listed on the endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days from submittal of petition to decide if they will conduct a yearlong review of the birds, which is mandatory before adding the birds to the endangered species list.

The puaiohi, or small Kaua‘i thrush, is a federally listed endangered bird that could hopefully bounce back from possible extinction. In the Kaua‘i Forest Recovery Project, puaiohi eggs are pulled from the wild as part of the captive breeding program. After the eggs are hatched, the birds are hiked to the release site in the Alaka‘i Wilderness Preserve, put in an aviary for a week and released.

Since 1999, 151 puaiohi have been released into the Alaka‘i. Many of them are fitted with tiny radio transmitters for tracking.

“It is hard to track the exact location of the birds,” Roberts said. “We just track the general area of where they are.”

Other recovery efforts include the placement of artificial nest boxes and rodent control for rats. As a result, the puaiohi population is pretty stable, according to Roberts.

Roberts stressed that the public can help in the bird conservation effort.

“You can make a difference yourself,” Roberts said. “You can grow native plants and minimize your environmental impact.”

• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or rgehrlein@kauaipubco.com.


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