Saturday, July 10, 1999

By Joop Kuhn, The Peregrine Fund
Kauai Puaiohi.

'It's a conservation home run'

Fourteen highly endangered
puaiohi released into the wild are
mating and having babies

By Anthony Sommer


ALAKAI WILDERNESS PRESERVE, Kauai -- Like the proudest of proud parents, biologists who early this year released 14 highly endangered puaiohi into the wild announced yesterday that the birds are mating and four of their young already have left their nests.

The released birds have been mating with each other and with wild puaiohi already living in the Alakai Swamp, a key survivability test for any bird raised in captivity, biologists said.

One female was so enthusiastic she began building a new nest before the fledglings in her original nest had left home, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which is monitoring the progress of the birds set free by the Peregrine Fund, a private conservation organization.

The arrival of the baby puaiohi -- which is found only on Kauai and also is known as the small Kauai thrush -- marks the first time any endangered Hawaiian forest bird has been raised in captivity, released and bred in the wild, biologists said.

"It's a conservation home run,'' said Alan Leiberman, director of the Peregrine Fund's Hawaii Program.

Leiberman said only eight of the 14 birds released have been located but they are all doing well. The others may have flown out of range of the biologists assigned to track them in the very rugged wilderness area.

By Joop Kuhn, The Peregrine Fund
Kauai Puaiohi.

Only 200 to 300 puaiohi remain in the wild and almost all are found in a 3-square-mile area of the Alakai Swamp, said USGS biologist Bethany Woodworth. The swamp covers much of the north central interior of Kauai at an elevation of about 4,000 feet.

The population is so small that one more hurricane could wipe out the species, so a captive flock of 16 birds is being kept on the Big Island, she said.

Once very common in Kauai's high wetlands, the bird has been decimated by introduction of feral pigs, which have destroyed the food supply, and rats that raid the birds' cliffside nests, Woodworth said. Like many other native birds, they probably also have been affected by avian malaria and smallpox.

Biologists tracking the puaiohi saw two of the nestlings of the released birds taken by rats.

The released birds, which were raised from eggs found in the wild, all carry miniature radio transmitters on their backs. Now that they have established themselves in a small area, they will be easy to find even when the transmitters fail, Woodworth said.

At least seven of the 14 birds have built a total of at least 14 nests and four young are flying, said Geological Survey biologist Erik Tweed, who is assigned to track them on Kauai.

What surprised biologists was the propensity of the birds to re-nest whether or not their original nests produced any young.

They also discovered one male bird paired with two females and assisting each with their nesting duties.

The Peregrine Fund plans to release more puaiohi in January and February. The group has hatched eggs from 12 different Hawaiian forest birds.

The puaiohi is the first they have released back into the wild.

Biologists said the test for success is whether the offspring of the released captive birds also mate and build nests.

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