A new relocation project on Maui aims to increase habitat for the threatened Kiwikiu, Maui Parrotbill bird. The Kiwikiu is considered the most threatened among Maui’s honecreepers, with fewer than 300 left in the wild.
With its entire population restricted to high elevation, wet, rain forest on windward Maui, Kiwikiu are highly vulnerable to extinction. Officials say the establishment of a second population on leeward Haleakalā is considered by experts to be essential to Kiwikiu recovery.
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Dr. Hanna Mounce is the Coordinator of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project said, “The Kiwikiu population in the native forest on the windward side of Maui is being managed in every way possible. Fences are up to keep ungulates out but introduced predators and avian diseases are still a threat and as long as the entire population is restricted to one area the species will remain vulnerable to extinction. Without a second population, it is only a matter time before we lose this critically endangered species.”
To recover Kiwikiu, the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project and the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife have been working with government and landowner partners to restore the native forests to the leeward slopes.
Following work to restore native forests to the leeward slopes, crews are now preparing to release up to 20 birds this fall to begin the re-establishment of a second population in the Nakula Natural Area Reserve.
Experts say re-establishment of a second population holds the best hope for the survival of this species. The forest restoration project began with fencing and removal of ungulates and has now planted more than 250,000 native trees like koa and ōhiʻa. It is a part of a larger effort with the Leeward Haleakalā Watershed Restoration Project.
Dr. Fern Duvall, Native Ecosystems manager with Maui DOFAW said, “Once we removed the feral ungulates from the reserve and began planting native trees it also became clear that there is a diverse and viable seed bank in the soil and we are now seeing vigorous natural regeneration of native forest species.”
The reforestation has been remarkable. Mounce said, “It actually really blew us away. The survival rate of these out-plantings far surpassed any of our expectations.” Teams of staff and volunteers spent months placing foot-high trees into the ground, developing new and better techniques along the way to ensure survival, which has resulted in healthy trees 20-30 feet tall now. “By enhancing natural regeneration with evolving planting and nurturing techniques, the forest is coming back a lot faster than we anticipated,” said Mounce.
Michelle Bogardus, Maui Nui and Hawaiʻi Island Team Manager, US Fish and Wildlife Service said, “This first reintroduction is an important step toward recovery for Kiwikiu. Collaborative conservation efforts like this are the key to success in protecting and recovering Hawaiʻi’s native species.”
Some of the birds will be moved from their current forest homes in east Maui. Others were hatched and raised at the San Diego Zoo Global’s Maui Bird Conservation Center. When they’re moved it will be their first time out in the wild and teams are in high-gear preparing the birds and their new home for their arrival.
The conservation translocation is expected to begin in October or early November.
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Scott Fretz, DOFAW Maui Branch Manager and one of the co-authors of the 2006 Recovery Plan said, “We are really excited to begin this phase of the work to recover and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the many partners that are working with us on this – communities, governments, landowners, non-profits, and volunteers. If we are successful, and that’s still a big if, because new threats are always possible it will be because these partners have worked tirelessly to save the ecosystems on which the Kiwikiu depend.