In 2007 and 2008, Eric built over 30 nest boxes for the Puaiohi, an endangered thrush endemic to Kauai, and, in collaboration with the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project, placed them along several streams in the Alakai Wildnerness Area. One of the main threats to this forest bird is predation by alien rats on eggs, chicks, and even adult females at the nest. The goal of the nest box program is to provide nest sites that are safer from rats, and eventually to possibly expand the range of Puaiohi by providing nest sites in areas that lack the natural cliff nest sites usually used by this species.
Puaiohi female in nest box, Kawaikoi Stream, 10 June 2011
I am pleased to report that this year two of the nest boxes along Kawaikoi Stream have been used by Puaiohi. Project staff told me that one nest was successful and fledged a chick in late May. We checked on the second nest box on Friday June 10, and it contained an active nest with 2 small chicks! Although only a small number of boxes have been used so far, hopefully this is just the beginning.
In July 2009 Eric submitted a proposal to the American Ornithologists’ Union checklist committee recommending that the Elepaio be split into 3 species, one each on Kauai, Oahu, and Hawaii. This recommendation was based on research that showed Elepaio on each island differ morphologically, genetically, and behaviorally. Copies of these research papers can be downloaded from the publications page of the Pacific Rim Conservation website (pdf #s 65 and 52).
The AOU has voted to accept this proposal, and the split will become official in July 2010. The official checklist can be viewed and searched on the AOU website: http://www.aou.org/checklist/north/ This change will give birders two more species to tick on their lists, but much more importantly, it will more accurately represent the evolutionary ecology of Elepaio, facilitate individual assessment of their conservation status on each island, and hopefully help create more support for conservation of the many endemic species in Hawaii. The Oahu Elepaio is already listed as an endangered subspecies under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but this change in taxonomy should increase its recovery priority. Under the IUCN system, the Oahu Elepaio will likely qualify as critically endangered due to its small population size and rapid decline.
Akikiki. Photo by Eric VanderWerf
Two bird species endemic to Kauai, the `Akikiki or Kaua`i Creeper and the `Akeke`e or Kaua`i `Akepa were recently listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To see a press release and the final listing rule, go to http://www.fws.gov/pacificislands/kauai48species.html.
Eric petitioned the Service to list these species in October 2007, and he enlisted aid of the American Bird Conservancy to help promote the petition and the plight of these imperiled birds. A copy of the petition can be found on the Pacific Rim Conservation website, under Publications and Reports, number 53.
Akekee male. Photo by Eric VanderWerf
The `Akikiki and `Akeke`e were listed as part of a package that included 48 species on Kaua`i. The Service took a while to finalize the listing, longer than legally allowed, but it is good to finally see them get appropriate legal protection.
However, simply listing these species as endangered will not lead to their recovery. Conserving these species will require long-term commitments to protecting their habitat from invasive alien plants and animals, and further investigating the causes of their decline.