KILAUEA — Kauai is coming up on peak fledging season for the endangered Newell’s shearwater and other seabirds, and that means it’s peak fallout season, too.
The birds are born in mountain burrows in Kauai’s deep country, and every year, as soon as they’re big enough, they take their first flight across the island and out to sea.
Kauai is the last stronghold in the world for the endangered Newell’s shearwater, and the species is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. They’re found nowhere else apart from the Hawaiian Islands.
They use the moon for navigation and could be out at sea for three or four years before they return to the burrow at upon which they imprinted after they were born. The third week in October marks the halfway point in the fledging cycle.
Every year lights from the ground distract some of the fledgling birds and create fallout — when the birds lose steam and crash to the ground. The crash isn’t usually the most dangerous part. Being grounded leaves them vulnerable to predators or cars.
The birds generally can’t get enough lift to get back off the ground, unless they get help from people. Organizations like Save Our Shearwaters and the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project encourage the public to help out.
“This week the full moon coincides with the birds fledging,” said Andre Raine, head of KESRP. “Now’s the time to look for them.”
Anyone who finds a downed shearwater can take it to any of the Kauai fire stations, where there are drop off sites.
Predators are a threat to the shearwaters even before they fledge from their burrows — KESRP wildlife cameras have caught cats and other predators killing the chicks in their burrows on multiple occasions.
Because of that, there’s an ongoing effort to relocate the colonies from the Kauai mountains to safer areas that have been fenced and made predator-proof.
Nihoku, or Crater Hill, part of the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, is one of those predator-proof enclosures where partners like Pacific Rim Conservation and KESRP are caring for translocated seabird chicks until they fledge.
Over a two-day trip in September, members of KESRP removed 20 Newell’s shewarwater chicks from their burrows and flew them to manmade burrows at Nihoku via helicopter.
Robby Kohley, with Pacific Rim Conservation, has been overseeing a team that’s been feeding those chicks, and as of Wednesday eight of them had fledged.
“The remainder are looking healthy and will be heading out shortly,” Raine said Wednesday. “Hopefully we’ll see the first ones (birds translocated to Nihoku) coming back next year.”
Once those birds return and mate, they’ll have completed the cycle and started a new generation in the colony at Nihoku. Partners in the project are using speakers at the site to create the illusion of a busy nesting colony and hopefully attract more breeding birds into the area as well.
The Newell’s shearwaters might be saying goodbye to parts of their colony as they fledge, but as of Tuesday they have new neighbors as well — 20 new neighbors, to be exact; Hawaiian petrels that are also part of the translocation program.
“We normally do translocations over two days, but because of the weather we did it all in one day,” Raine said. “They came from three different sites in the Napali Natural Area Reserve.”
That makes 90 Hawaiian petrels and 66 Newell’s shearwaters that have been successfully translocated to the Nihoku predator-proof nesting area.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.