DLNR News Release-Desperate search and rescue resumes for Kaua’i Honeycreepers
Published on August 26, 2022 in Latest news from the department, Press room
(LĪHUʻE) – As five members of a bird rescue team pack their bags for 10 days at a field camp in a remote area of Kaua’i, they understand all the challenges they will face and a feeling of impending despair.
The team, comprised of employees from the Kaua’i Forest Bird Recovery Project (KFBRP) and a representative from the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and the University of Hawai’i Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit (PCSU ), is currently searching for at least two of the critically endangered Hawaiian lianas, the ‘akikiki.
A shocking drop in the number of akikiki was recorded last year at Halehaha, the field site, in the central mountains of Kaua’i. Biologists monitoring the area found that the population of more than 70 birds recorded in 2015 had fallen to just five by 2021. As of June this year, there were only two birds left, both apparently males. Data from Halehaha, combined with data from other field sites on Kauaʻi where ʻakikiki numbers appear to be more stable, suggests that Halehaha is currently unsafe for ‘akikiki due to the presence of avian malaria.
Avian malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, is thought to be the main cause of the decline, which has decimated the akikiki population, leading to estimates of the species becoming extinct in the wild as early as next year.
Tyler Winter, the KFBRP field team leader, said: “We will try to locate and capture two banded birds, which the searchers have named Carrot and Abby. Abby is the nearly two-year-old offspring of Carrot, a male, and Na Pua, an unbanded female. Last December, they produced two chicks, one of which was captured late last year and flown to the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC), run by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.
“Although she has a female name, we are not sure of Abby’s gender. In the past four to five months, unfortunately, we haven’t spotted Na Pua. We expect to meet the other two and hopefully the third and get them all to safety before avian malaria takes them down, like so many others of their kind,” Winter explained.
“The only thing more devastating than the sudden disappearance of ‘akikiki over the past few years is realizing that the same is going to happen to the rest of the Hawaiian Honeycreepers in the very near future,” commented Justin Hite, the KFBRP field supervisor.
Hite added, “At this point, akikiki’s chances are bleak… very bleak. But the ‘akeke’e and the ‘anianiau do not have to suffer the same fate. They will if we don’t act. For sure.
Year-round, survey teams have trapped mosquitoes on Kaua’i, Maui and Hawai’i Island to produce data on the distribution of insect populations. This will help inform management decisions for a proposed project to introduce incompatible male mosquitoes into the forest habitats of creeper species, which will suppress mosquito breeding and lead to smaller mosquito populations.
Cara Thow, DOFAW/PCSU Avian Disease Research Supervisor for the island of Hawaii, is taking a break from her investigative work to join the search and rescue effort. It will be a series of firsts for her. First time to fly in a helicopter and hopefully first time to see an ‘akikiki in the wild. She was invited to join the mission because of her skill in banding small birds.
“Bringing them into captivity is the best bet for the species, otherwise they will succumb to avian malaria. It’s really reminiscent of the work we do on the Big Island and the work investigation teams that do it across the state. If we can’t control the mosquitoes, extinction is the trajectory we envision for all Hawaiian Honeycreepers. We need to up our game,” Thow said.
Hite pleaded, “I hope people will want to help. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do as individuals to make a difference. The mosquitoes are there, the malaria is there, and they are coming for the birds. No matter how much recycling you do, how little carbon you burn, that won’t stop it. We hope that people will support the release of incompatible male mosquitoes to reduce the population of mosquitoes infected with bird-killing malaria. This is the only conservation action that will not only help stop the impending extinction of these birds, but may even allow them to re-expand into areas from which they have already disappeared.
If the team is successful in capturing any birds, they will join 36 other adult ‘akikiki at the MBCC, in hopes that through captive breeding the population will be safe and grow enough to release the birds back into the wild, a avian malaria under control. .
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(All images/videos courtesy of DLNR)
HD Video – ‘Akikiki Search and Rescue Resumes Media Clips (August 25, 2022):
(Shooting sheet attached)
HD Video – ‘Akikiki search and rescue, Alakai Plateau (30 Nov-2 Dec 2021):
HD Video – One Bird, One Hope for a Species (as seen on select Hawaiian Airlines flights):
Photographs – ‘Akikiki Search and Rescue resumes (August 25, 2022):
Photographs – ‘Akikiki search and rescue, Plateau d’Alakai (November 30-December 2, 2021):
Senior Communications Manager
Hawaii Department of Lands and Natural Resources