PUHI — A young Hawaiian stilt is currently growing out the last of its feathers at the Save Our Shearwaters rehabilitation center, and it’s spending the rest of adolescence in style.
It’s the first occupant of SOS’s new waterbird enclosure — a 12-by-6-by-8-foot cage built to house Kauai’s sick, injured or baby native waterbirds during their final stages of recovery.
“We made things work (before the new enclosure), but we didn’t really have a proper cage for those birds,” said Tracy Anderson, coordinator for SOS. “Now we do.”
The enclosure is a non-restricted-movement cage so the birds can fly a bit. A water source is available for the swimming birds, and for bathing. Some greenery has been added to give the birds a sense of their wilderness homes.
Kilauea Point Natural History Association (KPNHA) paid for the cage’s approximately $2,300 price tag, which was a good fit because SOS often rehabilitates waterbirds from the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (KPNWR).
“Last year Tracy let us know they were in need of this pre-condition pen that would help with final stages (of rehabilitation) and we thought it would be a good project to support,” said Jane Hoffman, executive director of KPNHA.
The association has been helping SOS with funding on various projects for about six years.
“It took a while to get this funded,” Hoffman said. “I’m thrilled that they’re having it happen now.”
The timing was perfect for the stilt chick, who arrived at SOS as a baby after being found alone and abandoned.
Two weeks later, by the time the last of the netting was sewn up on the enclosure, the chick’s flight feathers started coming in and it needed a bit more space to stretch its wings.
“We got him when he was tiny, tiny — just a couple of days old,” Anderson said. “Now he needs an outdoor space away from things, away from the facility, just to finish growing.”
Once he’s proven himself in the enclosure, the bird will be released back at KPNWR.
The cage exceeds minimum standards by several feet, Anderson said, but it’s still not big enough for all of the birds that pass through SOS for rehabilitation.
It’s meant for birds like the stilts, coots and Koloa ducks, but the enclosure isn’t big enough for birds like pueo, night herons and the red-footed and brown boobies.
Finding funding for the large bird-flight enclosure is next on the priority list. That cage would be a minimum of 45 feet long and 12 feet high to accommodate the birds.
SOS gets some money from the federal government because they care for waterbirds from the refuge, especially for those with botulism. The state has also provided some money for a part-time staff member because the entity works with nene.
But it’s not enough to care for every bird species SOS rehabilitates, so the rehabilitation organization fundraises and accepts donations to make ends meet.
The cage is a priority because injured birds need time to fully heal from injuries and sickness, or to grow to maturity, before they’re released into the wild.
“If you have an athlete that breaks their leg, they don’t immediately go back to running marathons,” Anderson said. “We can’t just release them because their bone is healed. It takes a bit to build them back up.”