Maui County

Captive breeding due for
scarce native bird

State officials will try to catch 3 po'ouli
to boost the population

By Gary T. Kubota

State wildlife officials plan to send a team into East Maui in February to capture one male and two female birds that are among the rarest in the world and mate them in captivity.

The four to five workers will be using mist nets that were employed earlier this year to capture a female po'ouli. Once the workers are established in the wilderness, they will play birdcalls and monitor the mist nets day and night until another crew replaces them, said Michael Buck, administrator of the state Division of Forestry & Wildlife.

He said the decision to capture and propagate the po'ouli follows an unsuccessful attempt earlier this year to have a female mate with a male in their natural setting.

The two females and one male live within a mile and a half of each other in dense rain forest at the 6,500-foot level of the northeast slope of Haleakala, where there are steep ravines dissected by ridges and workers have to access the areas by helicopter.

Buck said officials were encouraged about proceeding with a captive breeding program after observing the captured female po'ouli.

He said the female was "pretty calm" after her capture and that workers found out she ate mealworms.

Capturing the birds may not be easy, especially the elusive male.

Buck said although workers came close and spent three to four weeks in the wilderness, they never were able to net the male po'ouli.

Buck said the project has sparked interest here and on the U.S. mainland and served as a means to educate the public.

"What we're doing is making sure no other forest birds go the way of the po'ouli," he said.

The po'ouli, Melamprosops phaeosoma, was first discovered in 1973 in East Maui at the 6,497-foot level by University of Hawaii college students during an expedition.

At that time, the population was estimated at 200 birds.

Officials with the state and federal government and nonprofit groups have been working to improve about 2,000 acres of the East Maui habitat by eliminating rats, cats and feral pigs.

Buck said the po'ouli has been able to continue to live in the area because of the habitat improvements.

He said other endangered birds have benefited as well, including the apapane, iiwi, Maui creeper, Maui parrotbill and the crested honeycreeper.

"The habitat has come back after a lot of intensive work," he said. "It's the best forest bird habitat in the state."

County of Maui

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