A captive breeding program conducted by wildlife officials appears to be the only hope for the survival of the Hawaiian po'ouli honeycreepers.

Workers try to
save rare bird

A series of five trips on Maui
will attempt to catch three
po'ouli for a breeding effort

WAILUKU >> Government wildlife officials and volunteers plan to make another attempt this year to capture what they believe to be the last three Hawaiian po'ouli honeycreepers in the world.

Eric VanderWerf, the Hawaiian bird recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said five different trips are planned on Maui between Oct. 20 and Dec. 7.

The bird species, once estimated at between 140 and 280 after its discovery in 1973, are located in different areas of Hanawi in east Maui between the 5,000 and 6,500-foot elevation.

Wildlife officials captured one of the two female po'ouli in Hanawi in April and then released her in the habitation area of the male but she returned to her own home a mile and a half away without breeding, federal officials said.

During last winter and spring, state and federal wildlife workers along with volunteers made a series of six trips trying to capture the three po'ouli and breed them in captivity but rain hampered their attempts at least half of the time, VanderWerf said.

He said if there is rain, the workers don't try capturing the birds because they fear the po'ouli might be vulnerable to hypothermia.

"If it's raining, we don't do it because there's too much risk to the birds," VanderWerf said.

He said all three birds have been seen in the past four to five months.

VanderWerf said officials have caught and examined each bird in the past and determined their sex through DNA analysis of their feathers.

He said the birds are at least 7 years old and their normal life expectancy remains unknown, although some forest birds live up to 15 years.

"They're all getting old and there's no telling how long they might live," he said.

The workers plan to lay out 20 mist nets, made of fine nylon, about 6 feet wide by 20 to 40 feet long.

The nets would be checked every 20 minutes to see if any birds had been captured, VanderWerf said.

Once captured, the birds would be transferred to the Maui bird conservation center in Olinda operated by the San Diego Zoo.

VanderWerf said the birds would be put in separate cages, side by side, with the male in the middle.

Workers would monitor which side of the cage the male frequents, possibly indicating which female is preferred by the male.

Under the capture plan, six to eight people would land by helicopter in Hanawi and spend 10 days during each trip to conduct their work, while staying at cabins overnight.

Wildlife officials know from the previous capture that the bird eats meal worms and snails and was able to remain calm in a specially designed soft enclosure after its capture.

VanderWerf said the number of po'ouli have diminished to the point that there might be problems arising from interbreeding but a captive breeding program appears to be the only hope for the species' survival.

"The more options you have the better chances you have, and we don't have very many options at this point," he said.


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