STAR-BULLETIN FILE / 2000
The endangered Laysan duck is making a comeback after waterfowl raised on their home island were moved to Midway Atoll and began rapidly breeding there.
Change of habitat benefits rare duck
America's rarest native waterfowl is making a comeback, with a little help from being moved to a new neighborhood.
Scientists watching endangered Laysan ducks on Midway Atoll say the birds are breeding surprisingly fast, with a second generation of ducklings hatched this week.
In October 2004 and again last October, endangered Laysan ducks bred on their namesake island were released at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Spreading the population to other islands is a way of preventing a single catastrophic event -- such as a hurricane, tsunami or an outbreak of bird flu -- from wiping out the breed.
Favorable conditions on Midway, a thousand miles northwest of Honolulu, helped along by wildlife experts, have also led to earlier breeding of the ducks, said John Klavitter, a biologist at the refuge.
"The breeding success of the new population at Midway Atoll is like a reward for everyone involved in the project," Klavitter was quoted as saying in a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service news release.
Midway refuge staff and more than 80 volunteers helped prepare the island with two years of habitat restoration work, including removal of invasive plants and the planting of more native vegetation that could provide cover, forage and nesting habitat for the rare ducks.
Laysan ducks, also known as Laysan teal, once ranged across the Hawaiian Islands, but by 1857, the introduction of rats left them only on Laysan Island. By 1966, fewer than 500 birds remained in the island's fragile ecosystem.
Last October, 22 Laysan ducks were moved to Midway, adding to 20 moved a year earlier.
This week, officials reported that two ducklings born last year were already grown, nesting and laying eggs that hatched on Sunday.
"We did not expect the second generation of ducklings so soon," said Dr. Michelle Reynolds, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist and project leader for the duck reintroduction program.
She said despite heavy rain on Sunday, eggs from two nests hatched. One female duck had four ducklings and the other had one, with at least 25 born to eight mother ducks this year and an additional five hens sitting on eggs.
All but two of the original 42 ducks have survived, Reynolds said.
"It is a very encouraging sign that the Midway population is increasing naturally since the translocation of the wild birds from Laysan," she said.
Observers say the ducks' success and early breeding on Midway suggests abundant habitat and food, while resources on Laysan Island are stretched to the limit.