JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Audubon Society recently acquired a plot of land on Black Point near Diamond Head as a sanctuary for the wedge-tailed shearwater, or 'ua'u kani. Above, a guano on the rocks is a tell-tale signs of shearwater habitat.
For the birds
To know the wedge-tailed shearwater is to love it, says Holly Freifeld, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.
See the preserve
Contact the Hawaii Audubon Society for information on visiting or volunteering at the Freeman Seabird Preserve: 528-1432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
That's what apparently happened to Houghton Freeman, who has a home on Oahu's Blank Point peninsula, an upscale residential area that also is one of the few urban nesting areas for the seabird known in Hawaiian as 'ua'u kani.
Freeman, a philanthropist and retired insurance industry executive, and his wife recently donated a 1-acre vacant lot in Black Point to the birds, with the Hawaii Audubon Society as designated caretakers.
The bird-loving community is aflutter with the prospect of a donation worth $7 million. The land marks the first time since its founding in 1939 that the Hawaii Audubon Society has had its own property to help birds, said Wendy Johnson, a society vice president.
"Residents of Hawaii rarely have opportunities for close encounters with the native animals and plants we share these islands with," Freifeld said. "This spot represents a remarkable opportunity for the residents of Black Point to have a neighborhood seabird colony in a setting where they, their kids and their friends can watch and listen to the birds as well as enjoy the spectacular view."
During the off-season when the birds are not nesting, the Audubon Society plans to have workdays to improve a trail through the property, clear it of rubbish and plant more native plants.
Public access to the property should be arranged through Audubon, Johnson said. The new preserve does not affect a nearby public access to the coastline.
The dusky brown wedge-tailed shearwaters have white breast feathers, long wings and a wedge-shaped tail. They nest on the ground or in shallow burrows and make a distinctive moaning call during the night. By day the adults go to sea to catch fish and return to feed their young regurgitated food at night.
The 1-acre parcel that will now be the Freeman Seabird Preserve had a house on it until it was torn down several years ago, said Johnson. The shearwaters, which had been gradually increasing in numbers at Black Point in the last decades, moved into the large lot with enthusiasm.
Though it is in the middle of houses, "the area is completely wild. It's quite amazing," Johnson said.
Freifeld estimates 40 or more pairs of shearwaters are nesting in the area now, each with chicks several months old. Each pair cares for one single egg, raising the chick to maturity between March and November, when the whole family takes off for the winter to forage at sea, Freifeld said.
Biologists believe that the birds return to nest where they were born.
There are more than 2 million wedge-tailed shearwaters at various tropical locales, Freifeld said. The largest proportion of the birds in Hawaii nest in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where land-based predators are not a problem.
Though the birds are not threatened or endangered, state and federal laws protect them as a migratory species, Freifeld said.
On the main Hawaiian islands since humans arrived, seabirds tend to nest on offshore islets, where they can avoid cats, rats, dogs and mongooses that prey on their eggs and chicks.
Last year the site had a small disaster after about 30 of the shearwater burrows were accidentally destroyed. The flummoxed adult birds abandoned their ruined nests, but volunteers with the Audubon Society and other organizations took over the care and feeding of 31 orphaned chicks.
In an amazing success story, 26 of those chicks lived to fledge into their flying wings and left the colony last fall, Audubon members said.
Freeman is a former vice chairman of American International Group (AIG), an international insurance giant that his father helped start. He is also the founder of the Freeman Foundation, a national group fostering the study and understanding of Asia.
The Freemans were not reachable for comment for this article.
Audubon treasurer John Harrison called their donation "an extraordinary gift. We're very grateful to them for this unique piece of property, which we envision remaining more or less as it was hundreds of years ago into the future -- so our children and grandchildren can have a point of reference."