Interns Birding at 10,000 feet

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An iiwi feeds on the blossoms of a mamane tree at Hosmer Grove.

As interns at the San Diego Zoo’s Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC), we have a unique opportunity to work with and preserve endangered Hawaiian avifauna. We come from various backgrounds to learn from the knowledgeable staff about husbandry care, breeding, and incubation of the birds that are a part of the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program (HEBCP). (See post, Interns Help Endangered Birds.)

Our days typically include the observation of breeding behaviors, diet preparation, cleaning and maintenance of aviaries, and monitoring the health of the birds. Every few weeks the interns are presented with a lecture pertaining to conservation projects both in Hawaii and around the world. We learn about various bird species and the global issues that play a role in their survival.

Two of the major threats impacting endemic Hawaiian birds are the destruction of native forests and avian malaria spread by nonnative mosquitoes. MBCC is located in an area where there is very little native forest and within the zone where avian malaria is prevalent, so there are very few native birds around; there are plenty of introduced mynahs, cardinals, and house finches, though. Consequently, to find the majority of native forest birds in Maui, it is necessary to visit protected areas above the altitudinal limit of the mosquito line.

Interns Sierra and Cody consult bird guides to identify birds along the trail.

After spending several months getting to know the birds in managed care at MBCC, we were given the opportunity to observe the native birds that reside on the slopes of Haleakala volcano. Our journey began in the Haleakala National Park with a small hike through Hosmer Grove, which is a trail nestled just inside the entrance of the park. Looking through our binoculars, we were able to identify the various species that flew from tree to tree. Among the mix of introduced and Hawaiian trees, we were able to observe several native forest birds, including the spectacular `i`iwi, `apapane, `amakihi, and the endemic Maui creeper. We noted the varying flight patterns and calls of the birds that were visible and attempted to seek out the ones that were not. We consulted our Hawaiian bird guide books throughout our adventure to confirm our observations.

Drive carefully!

We then started our trek up to the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala, which is a popular tourist attraction on the island of Maui for its breathtaking views and rare wildlife. As we made our ascent up the mountain, we caught a glimpse of several chukar partridges running along the side of the road up to the summit. The chukar is one of the many nonnative species to have been introduced to the Hawaiian Islands; in the case of the chukar, it was introduced as a game bird. We also kept an eye out for the nene that reside around the crater, including a large number released over the years from MBCC, but we were not fortunate enough to catch sight of any in the mist.

For the past five months we have spent the majority of our time at the MBCC facility caring for the birds, but being able to witness forest birds in their natural environment gives us hope and renewed appreciation for the HEBCP propagation mission. We enjoyed our brief field trip up to the Haleakala summit and Hosmer Grove, and we hope that future interns continue to have as much fun (but slightly less altitude sickness) as we did.

Sierra Browning and Lisa Farr are interns at the Maui Bird Conservation Center. Read Sierra’s previous post, New Year of Nene Goslings.