Saving the forest birds

ALAKAI — Over the past two years, Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project has led expeditions into the forests of Kauai’s Alakai Wilderness Preserve, searching for the nests of two bird species: the akikiki and the akekee.

There are fewer than 1,000 akekee, and the population of akikiki is below 500 members.

“Both have experienced significant declines over the past decade leading to concerns that these species will disappear in the future,” said Lisa “Cali” Crampton, in a talk at Department of Land and Natural Resources headquarters on Oahu Friday.

She said during the expeditions, eggs have been collected from the wilderness and brought to a captive breeding facility.

“The creation of captive populations serves as insurance for the possible extinction of the species, while simultaneously providing young that can eventually be reintroduced back into the wild,” Crampton said.

Also speaking at the Friday conference focused on the future of forest birds was John Vetter, with DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

He pointed out habitat loss, non-native predators, landscape-altering invasive weeds, and avian disease spread by mosquitoes have all contributed to the current predicament faced by these species.

“Kauai is the starkest example of this endangerment,” Vetter said. “Since the 1960s, five species have gone extinct, with three others considered critically endangered.”

He said introduced avian malaria is the biggest driver of the “extinction crisis.”

“Natural disasters, such as Hurricane Iniki, contribute to habitat loss or destruction,” Vetter said. “Avian disease is spread by non-native mosquitoes, which have been moving upslope as the climate warms, threatening the populations of the species at the highest parts of the island.”

Hawaii has been hailed the endangered species capitol of the world and is home to many endangered endemic bird species that are facing habitat loss and other threats to their survival.

The endemic and endangered species puaiohi, also found only on Kauai, is also the target of DLNR restoration efforts, and a program has culminated in the release of hundreds of captive puaiohi.

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