Ten downy Hawaiian Petrel chicks took the ride of a lifetime in November 2015. They were translocated by helicopter from their montane colonies on Kaua’i to a new, protected colony within Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, on the island’s north coast.
Hawaiian Petrels, or ‘Ua’u, live only in the Hawaiian Islands. Their numbers have declined dramatically because of a number of threats, including predation by introduced cats, rats, and pigs. The seabirds also collide with manmade structures during nocturnal flights between their nesting areas and the ocean, where they search for food. The species was listed as endangered in 1967.
For this first phase of a carefully planned relocation, wildlife biologists who had been monitoring the petrels throughout the nesting season were dropped on mountain peaks by helicopter. After hiking down to the birds’ burrows, the biologists carefully removed selected chicks by hand, placed them in pet carriers, and climbed back up. The helicopters then whisked the chicks away, their holding boxes secured by seat belts to ensure the safety of the cargo.
Once established at Kilauea Point in artificial burrows protected by state-of-the-art predator-proof fencing, the chicks thrived. Caretakers hand-fed them a slurry of fish and squid and monitored their growth daily. The last bird fledged on December 12, 2015. The young petrels will now remain at sea for the next three to five years, until they are ready to breed.
Scientists hope that the chicks will have imprinted on Kilauea Point and will return there to raise their own young. If they do, their new colony will be the only fully protected colony of federally listed seabirds in the Hawaiian Islands and will represent a huge achievement in the recovery of the species.
The relocation was led by a partnership that included the nonprofit organization Pacific Rim Conservation, the Kaua’i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project of the Hawaii Department of Forestry and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and American Bird Conservancy.
A version of this article was published in the April 2016 issue of BirdWatching.
This story was provided by American Bird Conservancy, a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas.
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