LIHUE — A cat has been terrorizing Hawaiian petrel burrows in the mountains of the Hono NaPali Natural Area Reserve, and its latest kill was a chick involved in a scientific tracking project.
State officials reported the kill Tuesday. It was one of three chicks that were tagged in their burrows on Nov. 12 as part of a study to learn more about where the birds go once they’ve fledged from Kauai.
Likely hours before the fated chick was going to fledge in November, scientists say a field camera caught a cat entering the burrow. It pulled the fully-grown chick out and ate it in front of the camera.
The same cat was seen on camera at five other burrows in the reserve over the course of a few days, and researchers believe it killed at least one other chick. Predator control teams were notified, and they continue to search for the elusive cat as well as other predators.
“It is vital that people take feral cat management seriously to ensure that birds like this Hawaiian Petrel chick survive to take their first flight,” said Kaua‘i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project coordinator Andre Raine. “Having feral cats loose on the landscape is not good for the cats, which risk disease and an untimely death, and it’s also terrible for our native wildlife.”
In 2019 alone, KESRP documented more than 150 Wedge-tailed Shearwater kills along the coast and multiple cat predations of Hawaiian petrels and Newell’s shearwaters — both species are critically endangered — in the mountains.
Researchers realized there was a problem in the burrow when a satellite tag attached to the chick continued to transmit over land for several weeks, while another tagged bird had already logged more than 5,000 miles since leaving the nest.
In late November, researchers returned to the forest burrow to find the chick had been killed. They retrieved footage from the nearby burrow camera that confirmed details of the attack.
“It was heart-breaking to find this healthy chick torn apart by a cat, especially when we saw the tracks of the other two birds that were satellite tagged,” Raine said.
These native Hawaiian seabirds evolved without any mammalian predators and have no defenses against them, according to researchers.
On Kauai, they are now restricted to the most remote, mountainous areas on the island and are in serious decline. Threats to the species include power line collisions and introduced predators, such as cats and dogs.
Raine and his team continue to monitor the two remaining petrels from their research project and report the satellite tags have provided “invaluable” information from the ocean areas where the birds take their first flights.
Meanwhile DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife and KESRP are learning how to use new technologies and methods to monitor predators and ultimately protect endangered birds from them.