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Endangered Petrels Moved to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

After being dropped by helicopter on to the mountain, the trans-location teams headed for nest burrows that had been monitored throughout the breeding season. (Image: Andre Raine  via Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project  CC BY 2.0)
After being dropped by helicopter on to the mountain, the trans-location teams headed for nest burrows that had been monitored throughout the breeding season. (Image: Andre Raine via Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project CC BY 2.0)

A team of scientists have removed 10 downy, endangered Hawaiian petrel chicks from Kaua’i’s north shore. The project has been in the making for over 30 years, and involved a helicopter and over a dozen people.

The team of scientists were dropped on the remote mountaintops of Kauai where they scooped up the endangered Hawaiian seabird chicks from their burrows. The chicks were then flown by helicopter to a new colony where they will be protected by a predator-proof fence at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.

The predator proof fence surrounds the new home of the endangered Hawaiian refuge on the Nihoku area of the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. (Image: Ann Bell via USFWS CC BY 2.0)

The predator-proof fence surrounds the new home of the endangered Hawaiian refuge on the Nihoku area of the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. (Image: Ann Bell via USFWS CC BY 2.0)

Dr. George Wallace, Vice President of the American Bird Conservancy said: “Predator-proof fencing and trans-locations of this type are necessary conservation strategies in Hawai’i to deal with widespread non-native predator populations that cannot be readily eradicated.”

Hawaiian petrel chick in its burrow. (Image: Andre Raine via Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project CC BY 2.0)

Hawaiian petrel chick in its burrow. (Image: Andre Raine via Kaua’i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project CC BY 2.0)

“For the Hawaiian petrel, which is threatened by non-native predators in their montane nesting areas, creation of a colony protected from predators will be a major step forward in stabilizing and recovering its Kaua’i population.”

According to a press release, the move involved three separate teams in the early morning; two teams were dropped by helicopter onto mountain peaks located in the Hono O Na Pali Natural Area Forest Reserve within the Na Pali-Kona Forest Reserve.

The chicks were carefully removed by hand, placed into pet carriers and hiked up to the tops of peaks where the helicopters picked them up. (Image: Linsday Young via Pacific Rim Conservation CC BY 2.0)

The chicks were carefully removed by hand, placed into pet carriers, and hiked up to the tops of peaks where the helicopters picked them up. (Image: Linsday Young via Pacific Rim Conservation CC BY 2.0)

The teams then headed for 10 nest burrows that had been observed during the breeding season. The chicks were then carefully removed, placed into pet carriers, and hiked up to where the helicopters could pick them up, American Bird Conservancy said in the press release.

The chicks were carefully removed by hand, placed into pet carriers and hiked up to the tops of peaks where the helicopters picked them up. (Image: Andre Raine via Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project CC BY 2.0)

The chicks were carefully removed by hand, placed into pet carriers and hiked up to the tops of peaks where the helicopters picked them up. (Image: Andre Raine via Kaua’i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project CC BY 2.0)

Michael Mitchell, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Acting Kaua’i National Wildlife Refuge Complex Project Leader, said in a joint press release: “This trans-location will establish a new, predator-free colony of the endangered Hawaiian petrel to help prevent the extirpation of the species from Kaua’i.” Petrels, like many other native Hawaiian species, are facing tremendous challenges with shrinking habitat and the onslaught of invasive species.

Hawaiian petrel chick being checked by a biologist. (Image: George Wallace via American Bird Conservancy CC BY 2.0)

Hawaiian petrel chick being checked by a biologist. (Image: George Wallace via American Bird Conservancy CC BY 2.0)

“Trans-locating the birds to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge ensures that this colony of birds will be protected for our children and our children’s children,” Mitchell added.

In addition to restoring vegetation in the Nihoku area of Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, artificial burrows were created for the new chicks. (Image: Rob Kohley via Pacific Rim Conservation CC BY 2.0)

In addition to restoring vegetation in the Nihoku area of Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, artificial burrows were created for the new chicks. (Image: Rob Kohley via Pacific Rim Conservation CC BY 2.0)

The endangered Hawaiian petrels, or ‘Ua’u, are one of two seabird species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and are found nowhere else on Earth. Due to predation by introduced mammals, such as cats and collisions with man-made structures during their nocturnal flights, their numbers have been declining dramatically.

Now being surrounded by the fine stainless steel mesh fencing that is 6.5 feet high, the 7.8-acre enclosure at Nihoku protects the birds from predators. The chicks will be hand-fed by humans, with their meals consisting of fish and squid.

The colony will be the only fully protected colony of federally listed seabirds anywhere in the Hawaiian Islands

The next step is the trans-locations of Newell’s Shearwater, which is seen as an important step in the project.

“We have seen a dramatic decline in the numbers of Newell’s Shearwaters on Kaua’i in recent years, with an estimated 75 percent drop in the last 15 years,” said Dr. André Raine of Kaua’i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project.

“The establishment of new colonies of that species using predator-proof enclosures at Nihoku, and possibly other locations in the future, is an important management tool to help reverse this decline.”

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