LIHUE — On Kauai, in the upper reaches of Kokee and the Alakai Swamp, are species of forest birds found nowhere else on Earth.
Unfortunately, their populations are declining at alarming rates. And one of the biggest threats, depending on the species, is rats, which are known to eat eggs, young birds and even adults.
“For some of them, it’s a really big deal,” Dr. Lisa “Cali” Crampton, project coordinator of the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project, said of rat predation.
In an effort to protect the last of these native birds, KFBRP has launched a funding and outreach campaign to eliminate rats with humane, self-resetting traps.
The “Birds, not Rats!” campaign kicked off Dec. 2 and runs through Jan. 31. In addition to increasing awareness about the threats rats pose to birds and native ecosystems, KFBRP hopes to raise at least $10,000 to purchase rat traps.
“The money is part of it,” Crampton said. “But to be honest, the outreach aspect is huge.”
As of Friday, just 11 days in, 98 individuals — including some as far away as India — had donated more than $7,500, or 75 percent of the overall goal.
Crampton said this is KFBRP’s first time doing crowd funding. And while she has been impressed with the support thus far, she hopes there’s more still to come.
“I have a feeling that it’s the closing game that’s the hardest game,” she said.
Long ago, songbirds managed to make it to Hawaii. Over time, they evolved into dozens of unique species perfectly adapted to the isolated tropical islands they call home. With human colonization, came the destruction of their native forest habitat and the introduction of alien species, including malaria-carrying mosquitos and predators like feral cats and, of course, rats.
Since then, seven of Kauai’s original 13 forest birds have gone extinct, including five since the 1960s. Of the eight that remain, six are found only on Kauai.
Three Kauai species — the Puaiohi or Small Kauai Thrush, the Akeke’e or Kauai Akepa, and the Akikiki or Kauai Creeper — are federally listed as endangered. Populations of these birds have plummeted as much as 90 percent in the last five years, according to officials. The Akikiki and the Puaiohi now number fewer than 500 birds, and the Akeke’e numbers fewer than 1,000 individuals.
The Division of Forestry and Wildlife has identified rats as a major threat to these species and their native habitats.
“We have found rats in the most remote parts of the forest, where they feast on bird eggs and attack nesting female birds,” Thomas Kaiakapu, the DOFAW Kauai wildlife program manager, said in a release.
Rats also destroy the native vegetation by feeding on the bark, fruits and flowers of native Hawaiian trees and shrubs. Thus, they also compete with native birds for food.
One simple and effective way of controlling the rat population in the forest is to set humane Goodnature traps, a mechanical trap that resets itself after a rat wanders inside.
“KFBRP successfully tested these traps at our study site last spring,” Crampton said in a release. “With 37 traps donated by the American Bird Conservancy, we eradicated over 100 rats in three months with minimal human effort, but we need many more to make a real impact on the birds. Unfortunately, given cuts in federal support for endangered species conservation, we are lacking the funds to purchase more traps.”
That’s where public support could prove crucial to the survival of these species. More money means more traps and, ultimately, more protection.
“If we exceed the goal, we’ll just buy more traps,” Crampton said.
Donations start at just $1. And with a donation of $300 or more, a person can adopt one or more personalized traps and track their own rat removal progress, according to the campaign website.
KFBRP hopes to raise enough to purchase and install an additional 25 Goodnature rat traps.
Unlike disease, another threat to these bird populations, Crampton said rats are something KFBRP can address right now. And by doing so, it could buy enough time for the birds to evolve and become resistant to diseases.
“With support from many individual donors, we can realize our objective of protecting our forest birds, and help reverse their declines,” Crampton said.
For more information or to make a donation, visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/protect-hawaii-s-stunning-endangered-forest-birds/.