Week 4 – Fun with Endangered Birds

Most of our work week here at Hakalau has fallen into a bit of a pattern this past week. We have spent a lot of time building FPDs (Frost Protection Devices – the shade screens we put up a couple weekends ago) and shucking Koa seed pods, as well as continuing to check out cat/mongoose traps. In addition to our normal chores, this week we also got to re-bait the traps, which unfortunately also involved removing the old bait. The best bait has been found to be canned fish – sardines and “fish steaks”.  The old bait certainly has its own odor to it…

The big work fun of the week revolves around Nene. It is now the time of year that most geese are happily paired, building nests, and laying eggs. We found eight active nests this week across the administration site and Pua ‘Akala. It is very exciting to know that in several weeks we will have goslings in nests, and shortly after that they’ll be running around! In addition to finding nests, we did more banding work on Wednesday with the refuge biologist. This time, we were far more successful. We were able to capture and band five birds. The challenge was not being pooped on when working around their legs.

The other fun with endangered birds from this week came yesterday on a delightful day off of the mountain. We got to drive down for groceries and an open house tour of the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC). KBCC is located near Volcanoes, HI, and is associated with the San Diego Zoo (SDZ) as a field station for their Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. We got a tour of the primary facilities – education aviaries attached to the main building and a series of aviaries attached to the kitchen, where they prepare diets for the birds. KBCC is currently focusing their breeding and raising work on four Hawaiian birds: the ‘Alala, Palila, Puaiohi, and Maui Parrotbill.

The ‘Alala is also known as the Hawaiian Crow (although, genetic analysis has more recently found that the ‘Alala is more closely related to Ravens or Rooks, depending on the study) and no longer exists in the wild. There are only 109 individuals currently alive, between KBCC, the Maui Bird Conservation Center, and the SDZ. We got to meet two of the birds, an older female (11 years), who is no longer reproductively viable because she got an egg stuck on its way out, requiring surgery, and one of her sons, who is very social and enjoyed showing off for us. We did only get to meet them through a window, but they were still beautiful birds to see, all black with thick collars and big bills.

The other three are all forest birds which have been driven towards extinction through a variety of problems, all introduced by people in someway. The Palila still lives, in extremely small numbers, on the sides of Mauna Kea and primarily eats the fruit of Mamane, a tree that is related to peas. A neat fact about the Palila is that it is the only finch-billed seed-eating honey creeper (most of the forest birds in Hawai’i are descended from a honey creeper ancestor). Mamane populations have been severely depleted since the introduction of the mouflon sheep, which enjoy eating the Mamane plant, greatly reducing the amount of Mamane fruit available to the Palila.

The Puaiohi is a tiny thrush endemic to Kaua’i. The Maui Parrotbill is another bird that has done great job adapting to a niche, like the ‘Akiapola’au. Where the Aki has developed a specialized bill to drill into wood and pull out bugs and grubs, the Parrotbill has a bill, resembling a parrot’s bill, for prying apart wood to get at the bugs and grubs. Another man-induced problem facing the forest birds (besides deforestation) is avian malaria. The pigs, which people brought for food and hunting, get wild in the forests, eat Hapu’u (BIG ferns), and, most problematically here, create wallows. Pig wallows lead to standing water in the forest, which is required for the life cycle of the mosquito, which passes avian malaria from bird to bird as it feeds. Fortunately, Hakalau is at a high enough elevation (and low enough temperature) to prevent the growth and reproduction of mosquitoes, which is great for us and the birds. The prevalence of avian malaria follows elevation and temperature closely.

It was very cool to see the facilities where extremely endangered species of birds are brought in, raised from eggs, hand fed (scrambled eggs), bred, and sometimes released back into the wild to carry on the species. Also there, were artists selling pieces (two- and three-dimensional) around the many different Hawaiian birds, many of which were just wonderful.

I have also updated my shutterfly (or will have soon) with pictures from these past few weeks on the big island, if you want to check that out. Thanks for following!

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5 Responses to Week 4 – Fun with Endangered Birds

  1. Pingback: Week 5 – Mist Netting, finally! « Create Adventures

  2. Andy, With my cool greenhouse complete, I am growing Ōhelo berry plants (from clonal propagation and seed). If you see any of the bushes in habitat, I’d love to see some habitat shots. Also, see if you can tell anything about the soil/substrate they’re growing in. I understand that the Ōhelo is a favorite food of Nene.

    • Well, in our greenhouse here, we generally start all seeds in Vermiculite (flats) and move seedlings into ProMix with mycorrhizae (4″ pots) when they’re at least an inch tall. Everything gets watered twice a day by the horticulturalist’s set up. When I’ve seen Ohelo in the forest, they’re usually growing as understory in the ‘ohia/koa forest. Largely shaded and quite damp. For more specifics on the substrate, I’ll have to see if the horticulturalist has some good suggestions.

    • Talked with the Horticulturalist, and he would suggest adding a draining agent to the media mix, too. Something like Perlite works really well.

      Good luck! Just wondering, how did you come by Ohelo berries?

      • The USDA Tropical Fruit station distributed a small sample of seeds, which are doing well. The plants, a propagated variety called Kilauea was gotten from Akatsuka nursery in Volcano, Hawaii, the only commercial retail source I know of. Thanks for the advice relayed from the horticulturalist. I will definitely pay heed. The nursery plants are young but I have about a dozen fruits that are just turning now. Very excited.

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