KILAUEA — More than 100 threatened and endangered seabirds have fledged from the Nihoku restoration site within the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge in the past four years.
A predator-proof fence surrounds the 7.8 acre-restoration site and keeps out the cats, rats and pigs that prey on the populations of the endangered uau (Hawaiian petrel) and the threatened ao (Newell’s shearwater). The site is also close enough to the ocean that they avoid other threats like power lines and light attraction when they fledge out to sea.
The effort to create a new, fully protected colony of these birds at Nihoku is part of a larger effort to protect the two species and help their populations recover, and the 2018 fledging season saw 39 chicks leave their burrows.
And while partners in the project hail it a success, they say record-breaking rains throughout the spring and summer made it challenging, especially during April and August storms.
“We experienced a difficult year with many close calls due to unanticipated weather events, but despite these challenges, we are very pleased to have completed another successful year of this important seabird recovery project,” said Heather Tonneson, refuge complex manager at the Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “Quick response from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers resulted in clearing the damaged culvert and preventing further damage and erosion under the fence.”
Lindsay Young, executive director for Pacific Rim Conservation, who led the project to build the fence, said part of the success was due to good design.
“The record rainfall this year had minimal impacts on the fence as a result of design features that allowed water to exit the fenced area,” she said.
From the time they get the chicks from the burrows to the day they fledge, researchers keep track of weight gain and food ratios, monitoring the condition of the birds and watching their progress.
At the translocation site, Robby Kohley and his team have been feeding and caring for the birds every season as they grow, and learning new things along the way each year.
“The most important thing is the body condition when they fledge,” Kohley said. “Each year I’ve been happy with the weights and body conditions and feather conditions.”
A total of 20 uau and 19 ao were brought to the site and all fledged except one petrel chick. A necropsy revealed the chick had a bacterial infection prior to being translocated to the site.
These seabirds spend their first four to five years at sea. The partners are anxiously waiting for the first translocated birds to return to the site to breed — the ultimate measure of success for the project.
This spring, the first cohort of petrel chicks — nine birds that fledged in 2015 — is expected to return. The partners hope that they will establish Nihoku as a breeding site and create the next generation of seabirds for this area.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at email@example.com.