Burrows for babies

KILAUEA — Seven baby Newell’s shearwaters were tucked into their new nesting areas Monday, establishing a new colony protected by a predator-proof fence at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.

The chicks were flown by helicopter from their burrows in the mountains to the new location, where they will be raised to fledging. The location is also the same site were 10 Hawaiian Petrels were translocated last year.

Creation of the new colony “provides hope for these species that are in a precarious position,” said Jenifer Waipa, supervisory park ranger at Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

The effort took a collaboration of Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, Pacific Rim Consecration, American Bird Conservancy, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The project wouldn’t have peen possible without the support of all the partners and we are very excited to see it go forward,” said Heather Tonneson, USFWS Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex Project Leader. “The predator-proof fence area within the Refuge will provide a safe haven for the shearwaters.”

The translocation of the shearwaters involved two separate teams of more than a dozen people each. The teams were dropped by helicopter into the mountains in the Upper Limahuli Preserve, owned by National Tropical Botanical Gardens.

The team members removed seven healthy chicks from their burrows by hand, placed them in carriers, and brought them to the Princeville airport. Then the chicks were taken to their new home within the predator-proof fence.

An eighth chick is scheduled to join the crew in a few days, after being discovered wandering far from its burrow several weeks ago. That chick is under the care of the staff at the Save our Shearwaters facility in Lihue.

Newell’s Shearwater chicks imprint on their birth burrow location when they first emerge from their nests, which are usually between three and six feet below the ground. About five years later, as adults, they’ll return to the same exact location to breed.

The new colony will be the only fully protected colony of this species anywhere in the Hawaiian Islands.

“Kauai is home to an estimated 90 percent of the world population of Newell’s Shearwater, so the island really is critical to the long-term survival of this species,” said Andre Raine of Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project. “Now is the time to focus all of our efforts on protecting the remaining colonies, using all the management strategies available to us, and establishing new colonies in protected areas.”

From now until the chicks emerge from their burrows, imprint, and fledge, they will be hand-fed and their growth will be monitored.

“We are very excited to have accomplished a major recovery objective for one of Hawaii’s endemic seabird species,” said Lindsay Young, project coordinator with Pacific Rim Conservation. “What we learn on this project will be crucial to implementing what we hope will be many more projects like this on Kauai and across the state.”

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