About Author: Sierra Browning

Posts by Sierra Browning


A Growing ‘Alala Flock

An 'alala checks out her new neighbors.

Construction of the new `alala aviaries at the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC) was completed early this spring, thanks to the great work of our friends at Zoe Builders. (See post, New Homes for the Growing Flock).  In order to house the growing `alala flock, the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program (HEBCP) staff members are in the process of transferring juvenile and non-breeding `alala from our sister facility, the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC) on the Big Island, over to MBCC.

Prior to installing the birds into their new aviaries, we have been busy making the aviaries into suitable homes for the new residents. This has entailed mounting perches, ropes, and browse tubes, and hanging large swinging perches from the ceilings. The aviary has natural earth floors, to which we are steadily adding grass, logs, koa trees, and other native plants to simulate natural elements of their wild environment.

The four new `alala aviary buildings at MBCC.

One of the advantages of the new aviaries’ design is that they are much more efficient for daily maintenance and cleaning; this reduces the amount of time we are inside the aviaries, so the birds spend less time interacting with us and more time interacting with each other. But we are able to make close observations of the birds through windows. Catch-up cages, known as “hack-boxes,” are a new feature for MBCC aviaries, having proven a valuable component of KBCC’s aviaries. We are in the process of conditioning the `alala to feel comfortable coming into the hack-boxes by placing their daily food pans inside, but eventually we hope to be able to train the birds to enter the hack-boxes in return for a reward.

KBCC Research Associate Rachel Kingsley arrives at Kahului airport, transporting an `alala to its new home in Maui.

Transferring a large number of `alala from the Big Island to Maui is a gradual process, because the birds are such a special consignment. Hawaiian Airlines very kindly allows the birds to travel in the cabin—perhaps the only birds in the world with airline corporate membership?! We are careful to ensure that the birds’ carrier boxes are protected with mosquito netting, which eliminates the ever-present risk of avian malaria. The flight is short, but the birds occasionally vocalize during the flight, which leads to some head-turns from fellow passengers—fortunately not enough shrieking to make ourselves unpopular…yet! We are always eager to explain what precious cargo they are carrying as well give a mini-history of the HEBCP and its goals with the endangered `alala.

Once the `alala arrive at the Kahului airport on Maui, they make the 30-minute drive up the slopes of Haleakala to the MBCC facility. The selection of which birds to place next door to specific neighbors is dependent on several factors including personality, age, sex, and behavioral history toward other birds. Upon arrival in their aviary, the carrier box is positioned so that the bird has a full view of its new home, and it is then released. After it has found a favored perch on which to settle, we observe the bird to ensure that it is still healthy after the journey. The new residents are checked frequently to ensure that they are adjusting well in their new abode.

After successfully relocating five `alala to MBCC this spring, we plan to transfer more juvenile and non-breeding `alala from KBCC over the next few months. Crucially, with this year’s breeding season underway, we have hopes to fill these aviaries with another productive year of youngsters.

Sierra Browning is an intern at the Maui Bird Conservation Center. Read her previous post, Interns Birding at 10,000 Feet.


New Year of Nene Goslings

Nene goslings

The San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program (HEBCP) is excited to ring in the New Year with the hatching of the first nene goslings of the season. The state bird of Hawaii is still captive bred at the HEBCP’s Maui Bird Conservation Center in the attempt to raise the wild population to a more self-sustainable number through the propagation and release of goslings.

The beginning of winter signals the start of nene breeding season. We monitor to determine when the females start sitting on a nest and when they begin laying eggs, because the period for incubation is approximately 30 days. Nene are typically the only birds that we encourage to parent-rear their young, as opposed to artificial incubation and hand-rearing by the staff. Therefore, the majority of our duty during the incubation period is observation.

Nene eggs are pulled for candling. Click on images to view in larger format.

The one exception is when the eggs are candled around day 18 of incubation to assess fertility. If an egg is fertile, it is returned to the nest of the sitting female; however, if an egg is not fertile, it is removed from the nest to prevent contamination of the remaining eggs. Although interns like myself are unable to handle the eggs, it does provide valuable opportunities to learn from the actions of the knowledgeable staff.

On day 28 of incubation, we listen for any sound of goslings that may have hatched. The nene goslings tend to roost underneath the female for approximately two to three days after hatch before their parents take them around the enclosure. There are some changes made to promote the survivability of the goslings, which include shallow water pools and adjustments in diet. Each modification is tailored to the age of the goslings, so as the goslings mature they transition to the diet and husbandry of an adult nene.

Each bird in the HEBCP flock has a unique identification band. Every week or so, the leg bands of the nene goslings are changed, because the youngsters are growing at such a great rate, and we want to avoid any injury that would be sustained if a band were to be too loose or too tight. During this procedure, the staff is able to perform physicals to monitor the goslings’ health and to keep an eye on their body weight and development.

At the Maui Bird Conservation Center, we are ecstatic to announce the successful hatching of seven nene goslings! The three new pairs of parents are taking wonderful care of them. The goslings are eating well, gaining weight, and exploring among the long grass of their enclosures.

There are currently an estimated 1,800 nene in the wild. However, with the exception of the population on the island of Kauai, nene numbers are not sustainable due to ongoing threats facing the wild birds, such as predation by introduced mammals and habitat degradation. In an attempt to keep the wild population buoyant, the HEBCP has released 429 nene since 1996. The current plan is to produce 75 goslings over the next five years, which will be released at Haleakala Ranch on Maui. This is a part of the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife’s commitment to the safe harbor agreement with these private landowners (see post Nene: Movin’ On Up). The safe harbor agreement with Haleakala Ranch will provide a well-maintained and safe habitat for the nene youngsters to be released into.

Sierra Browning is an intern at the San Diego Zoo’s Maui Bird Conservation Center.