First Hatch Gives Hope for the Future of an Endangered Hawaiian Bird

Conservationists in Hawai‘i are rejoicing over the first successful breeding of ‘akikiki in captivity. The ‘akikiki is a critically endangered bird species found only in the remote forests of Kaua‘i, and the young fledgling represents a significant step in efforts to save this small Hawaiian honeycreeper.

“The parents that produced this offspring came from eggs collected in the wild,” said Jennifer Pribble, research coordinator, Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program, San Diego Zoo Global. “So, this is the first offspring ever produced in captivity. It was parent-reared—raised completely by its mother, without any human intervention. The parents are a 3-year-old male and 2-year-old female.”

Eggs from ‘akikiki have been collected from native forest habitat since 2015, as part of an effort to preserve the species from extinction. The eggs were brought into human care to start a breeding population through a collaborative effort by the Kaua‘i Forest Bird Recovery Project, State of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, and San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

“The ‘akikiki population has shown steep declines over the past 10 to 15 years, and now numbers fewer than 500 birds in the wild,” said Lisa “Cali” Crampton, Kaua‘i Forest Bird Recovery Project coordinator. “We hope that one day this young bird and its kin will be released on the Alaka‘i Plateau, to help turn this number around.”

“The future of forest birds on Kaua‘i depends on all of us working together—and is especially important for critically endangered birds like the ‘akikiki,” said Michelle Clark, Kaua‘i partnerships biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “A panel of experts in Hawaiian forest bird conservation identified the initiation of a conservation breeding program as an essential step to prevent extinction of ‘akikiki. Being able to reproduce in captivity is another step forward for the species.”

The ‘akikiki is a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper found only on the island of Kaua‘i. This small bird species has been severely affected by introduced diseases such as avian malaria, as well as loss of native forest habitat, hurricanes and the introduction of non-native predator species in the wild. Very little is known about ‘akikiki, and they have not been raised in an intensive care setting before. Conservationists with the Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program have successfully cared for a number of other similar native Hawaiian birds, and are using these and new techniques to help this endangered species thrive.

“After collecting the first ‘akikiki eggs and hand-raising the chicks, it is exciting to have confirmation that our artificial incubation and hand-rearing techniques are successful, with this milestone of ‘akikiki reproducing in captivity,” said Jeremy Hodges, research coordinator, Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program, San Diego Zoo Global.

This effort has also been supported by the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, American Bird Conservancy, Hawaiian Airlines, Kaua‘i Realty, Bryan and Tanya Tanaka, and anonymous donors.

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