HILO — University of Hawai‘i at Hilo researchers located an endangered native seabird, the ‘ua‘u, and a nesting site on Maunakea in May.
Active ‘ua‘u (also known as the Hawaiian petrel or Pterodroma sandwichensis) have not been recorded on the mountain since 1954.
“When we saw them for the first time it was almost a moment of disbelief,” said conservationist Bret Nainoa Mossman, a UH-Hilo alumnus who along with UH-Hilo researcher Patrick Hart spent years enduring frigid conditions after sundown on Maunakea searching for the seabirds.
“We had been looking for them for so long that they were kind of like this ghost that we were just chasing on the mauna,” said Mossman.
“To actually see them just like really connected the dots and really cemented how important what we were doing really is, because no one else was looking for these birds for quite a long time.”
The UH-Hilo Office of Maunakea Management (presently the Center for Maunakea Stewardship) has funded research of native Hawaiian birds and Hawaiian hoary bats at high elevations since 2017 to determine if UH-managed lands provides habitat for these native animals, and to fulfill management actions identified in the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan.
UH-Hilo researchers spotted the ‘ua‘u on a state Department of Hawaiian Homelands protected parcel that borders UH-managed lands on Maunakea.
Using sound recorders, infrared and thermal imagery, researchers scanned remote locations for ‘ua‘u, and first detected flight activity in April 2021 on DHHL-managed lands on Maunakea.
DHHL staff and researchers then discovered a nest burrow, and worked to set up traps to deter prime predators such as cats and mongoose that are known to feast on ‘ua‘u chicks and adults.
The undisclosed location of the seabird’s nesting site falls within the DHHL’s zoned conservation lands planned for mamane forest restoration.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has provided predator traps and a camera to capture ‘ua‘u activity.
Expanding ‘ua‘u protection
The ‘ua‘u forage at sea and fly inland after sunset to build underground nests in higher elevation areas throughout the Hawaiian islands, including Kaua‘i, Haleakala on Maui, Maunaloa on Hawai‘i Island and Lana‘ihale on Lana‘i.
They are currently listed as an endangered species under state and federal policies.
The endangered seabirds’ Hawaiian name depicts its distinctive moaning. The ‘ua‘u has been detected acoustically by the UH Hilo Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems Bioacoustics Lab since 2018 at many locations near Maunakea’s Pu‘ukanakaleonui. Rediscovering ‘ua‘u on Maunakea indicates the species likely continues to use the mountain as a nesting site.