Hawaii Bird Program: Open House

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Staff member Blake Jones shares why Hawaii birds are facing extinction.

The Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC) welcomed visitors on December 6, 2008, to its annual open house. Over 80 people came to see some of the most endangered birds in the world and learn about our role in their recovery efforts.

The visitors learned from the staff about the main problems that are affecting the wild populations of endemic Hawaiian birds. These are introduced predators (mongoose, rats), introduced diseases (pox, malaria), and habitat degradation/loss (much from feral sheep, goats, and pigs).

There were thought to have been 140 species of birds in Hawaii when Europeans first arrived on the islands. Today, one-half of those are extinct. Of the remaining, about one-half are critically endangered, and many of them are presumed extinct.

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Staff member Kara Kneubuhler introduced a tour group to three rare ‘alala in the education aviary.

During the open house, our guests were given the opportunity to see Hawaiian crows (‘alala), Maui parrotbills, palila, puaiohi, Hawaiian ‘akepa, and elepaio. Even a pair of wild nene made an appearance.

Few people get a chance to see these birds. The ‘alala are extinct in the wild and there are currently 60 at the KBCC and our sister facility, the Maui Bird Conservation Center. The other species at the KBCC are critically endangered and live in hard-to-reach habitats. For example, Maui parrotbills are found in the remote high-elevation rain forests of Maui, and currently less than 500 remain. Puaiohi live in the Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve of Kauai and prefer habitat with steep ravines. The wild population may be as low as 200 individuals.

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The hand-rearing lab window prepared for viewing.

The visitors were given a look at our kitchen to see what ‘alala, palila, and puaiohi at the KBCC eat. The kitchen contains many foods you might find in your own kitchen, such as apples, melons, and frozen vegetables, and many others you wouldn’t want to find there, like frozen mice, mealworms, and dried fly pupae!

A video allowed the visitors to see some of our field activities including collecting eggs from wild nests and releasing hand-reared birds as well as parts of the incubation and hand-rearing process that very few get to witness. Everyone learned about the tremendous effort put into each egg and chick and got a peek into a hand-rearing lab through a viewing window.

The grand finale of the tour was the ‘Alala Education Aviary, which is home to three ‘alala (Lilinoe, Lokahi, and Kekoa). Many were surprised at how big the birds are; they are larger than many of the crows found on the mainland. Visitors were also even more surprised to find out that such a large animal only weighs about one pound.

We also had the pleasure of hosting four artists from the Big Island. Jack Jeffery, Emily Herb, Elizabeth Miller, and Margaret Barnaby displayed and sold their bird-inspired artwork as the open house guests snacked on refreshments and had the opportunity to ask questions and talk to the staff.

The open house not only gave the public a chance to learn about our facility, but it also gave our staff a chance to share our excitement and passion for conservation of the rare and wonderful birds we work with daily.

Sara Bebus is a research associate at the San Diego Zoo’s Keauhou Bird Conservation Center.

Visit the Hawaii Endangered Bird Program blog section

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