Maui News

50 SHEARWATER BIRDS KILLED AT MOLOKAI’S NATURE CONSERVANCY

April 23, 2009, 3:22 PM HST
* Updated April 24, 12:50 PM
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Fifty adult wedge-tailed shearwaters were found dead yesterday morning at The Nature Conservancy’s Mo’omomi Beach Preserve on the island of Moloka’i.

Conservancy field staff collect the dead shearwaters strewn over grassy dunes of Mo`omomi Preserve on Moloka`i.  Photo credit: Nature Conservancy.

Conservancy field staff collect the dead shearwaters strewn over grassy dunes of Mo`omomi Preserve on Moloka`i. Photo credit: Nature Conservancy.

State wildlife biologist Fern Duvall (at right) at the Conservancy's Moloka`i office with 50 dead wedge-tailed shearwaters.  Photo credit: Nature Conservancy

State wildlife biologist Fern Duvall (at right) at the Conservancy's Moloka`i office with 50 dead wedge-tailed shearwaters. Photo credit: Nature Conservancy

The ground-nesting seabirds were the victims of an attack by a loose dog, which was captured roaming the dunes with a shearwater in its mouth.

“We’re all devastated,” said Ed Misaki, the Conservancy’s Moloka’i Program Director. “These were all adult birds trying to establish their nests. This will affect the ability of this thriving seabird colony to continue to grow.”

Wedge-tailed shearwaters – or ‘ua’u kani – are large, dark-brown migratory birds with a black-tipped dark-gray bill. The birds live all their lives at sea and come ashore only to breed.  Returning to the same nest site each year, they nest in shallow sand burrows, one to two meters in length.

According to state wildlife biologist Fern Duvall, all 50 of the birds were sexually mature adults at least seven years of age. They had recently begun arriving at the preserve to establish their nests for the breeding season, which extends from March through December.

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“It’s a real tragedy,” said Duvall, who has been conducting annual nest counts of the shearwater population at Mo’omomi since 2000. “These are long-term monogamous birds that require seven years before they become sexually mature adults. So we have lost a good portion of the breeding population here.”

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The Conservancy’s Mo’omomi Preserve is a rare, intact coastal sand dune ecosystem located on the islands’ northwest coast. When the Conservancy first established the preserve in 1988, shearwaters and other ground nesting sea birds had all but disappeared. Then, in 1999, Conservancy staff discovered three sand burrows and began implementing a year-round monitoring and predator control program to protect the birds from rodents, cats, mongooses and dogs.

The program had been so successful in creating a safe haven for the shearwaters that last year the nest count had grown to 418, with a further increase expected this year.

According to Duvall, as bad as the damage was, it could have been worse. “We were actually fortunate that we caught the culprit at 50,” he said.  “We can eventually recover from this if we stay on top of predator control.”

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(Posted by: Wendy OSHER.  Information and photos provided by: The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. © 2009)

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