STAR-BULLETIN / 2004
Biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service transferred 42 wild ducks from Laysan to Midway Atoll in 2004. The population has since grown to 200.
Laysan ducks flourish at Midway
The rare waterfowl surprises researchers by flying between the small islands
The number of endangered Laysan ducks on Midway Atoll has grown to 200 from 42 in the three years since small groups were relocated from Laysan Island, federal wildlife biologists reported.
The ducks, also known as Laysan teals, were once widespread across the Hawaiian Islands.
By 1860, though, they were found only on Laysan, a low-lying island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands chain that is home to millions of seabirds.
By the time the Laysan duck -- Anas laysanesis -- was listed as endangered in 1967, its numbers had dwindled to 300 to 500 birds.
The rarest native waterfowl in the United States is found only in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service transferred 42 wild ducks from Laysan to Midway in 2004.
They aimed to spread the birds across a broader geographic area and thus reduce its risk of extinction from hurricanes, tsunamis, avian flu and other dangers.
The experts also found the ducks were having trouble propagating on an island populated by rats, which prey on the birds. Officials at Midway managed to get rid of the atoll's rat population in the 1990s, making it a good site for the Laysan ducks.
"Now Laysan ducks are found on three rat-free islands for the first time in hundreds of years and are flying between islands at Midway Atoll," project coordinator and USGS wildlife researcher Michelle Reynolds said in a news release.
The ducks produced 56 fledglings in the 2006 breeding season, followed by 116 this year.
The first birds transported from Laysan carried small transmitters so they could be located in dense vegetation.
Monitoring revealed the ducks are capable of using a variety of vegetation types for nesting and foraging that are not available on Laysan.
Researchers also were surprised to see the ducks flying between the small islands that comprise Midway Atoll.
"The outlook for the conservation of Laysan duck is more optimistic, given their ability to nest and forage in unfamiliar and non-native vegetation," Reynolds said.
She said researchers are considering establishing a third population on another island free of predators.