Rats blamed for missing ‘akikiki eggs

HANAPEPE — Rats aren’t picky. In fact, they’ll eat almost anything from bark, seeds, fruit, and snails to other rodents, birds and eggs.

Tuesday, it’s believed they ransacked an ‘akikiki nest in the Alakai Wilderness Preserve, leaving only fragments of the two eggs that were being monitored by the Kauai Endangered Forest Bird Recovery Project.

The team had planned to harvest the ‘akikiki, or Hawaiian honey creeper, eggs as part of the effort to create a captive breeding population because there are fewer than 500 of these little birds left in the wild.

The plan was to relocate the eggs to an egg house where they were supposed to be incubated and hatched, then transferred to one of the San Diego Zoo Global’s bird conversation centers on Maui and the Big Island.

The rats got to the eggs before the Kauai Endangered Forest Bird Recovery Project team did, however.

In a news release sent to TGI Tuesday night, the Department of Land and Natural Resources said the loss of “even a couple of eggs to predators like rats is considered a setback to the people trying to save this native species from extinction on Kauai.”

According to Cali Crampton, of Kauai Endangered Forest Bird Recovery Project, the nest was located outside a rat-trapping grid with 150 traps at Halepaakai, just northwest of Mt. Waialeale.

She said organization plans to expand the trapping area, and possibly add the new traps from American Bird Conservancy, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and those that were purchased with the money from their #birdsnotrats campaign, which wrapped up in April.

The #birdsnotrats campaign won’t be coming back because of the egg incident, but Crampton said donations to support forest bird conservation efforts like rat trapping can always be made to the organization’s not-for-profit partner, Garden Island Resource Conservation and Development. Donors can specify to which project their money will be applied.

“It should also be noted that the other DLNR projects, like Kauai Endangered Seabird Project, control rats to benefit other bird, invertebrate, and plant species in other parts of Kauai,” Crampton said. “Some of these efforts may benefit forest birds, too.”

On Kauai, three types of rats have taken up residence: Polynesian, Norwegian and Black rats. Crampton said the Polynesian rat arrived with Polynesian settlers, and the other two arrived on-island with European boats.

Crampton said the Black rat is considered the biggest threat to forest birds because it’s a strong tree climber and favors forest environments, as opposed to the smaller Polynesian rat, which isn’t a good climber, and the Norwegian rat that prefers urban areas.

Andre Raine, of the Kauai Endangered Sea Bird Recovery Project, said it’s not just forest birds that are at risk when it comes to rat predation.

“Black rats in particular are not just a serious threat to endangered forest birds, but are also a significant cause of mortality to endangered seabird chicks on Kauai,” Raine said.

In addition to the ‘akikiki and the endangered seabird chicks, rats will also go after eggs and female Puaiohi, which are another endangered forest bird, numbering fewer than 500 birds, and only on Kauai.

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