Archive for 2003

Teaching the Children: A Hawaiian Tradition

Posted at 9:12 am November 20, 2003 by Alan Lieberman

 Alan Lieberman with kids at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center

If you plan for a year, plant kalo.

If you plan for ten years, plant koa.

If you plan for 100 years, teach the children.

Hawaiian Proverb

Such sentiments are found in many cultures, and in many languages, but they all speak to the same hope: if you want to make the world a better place for all, begin by teaching your children well.

In 1998 the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program, recognizing that the true value of our efforts might lie in the educational opportunity it afforded the children of Hawaii, formed a partnership with the Keakealani Outdoor Education Center (KOEC). The KOEC is a unique environmental education program sponsored by the Hawaii Department of Education. It hosts every sixth-grade student on the Big Island of Hawaii for a three day/two night stay in the remote rain forests near the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Sixth-graders look forward to this adventure where they hike the Park, learn about Hawaii’s natural history, and visit the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center. Here they see what is being done to recover the endangered avifauna of their Hawaii. The children are amazed to hear how the world is watching their tiny island home and how Hawaii presents a natural laboratory for the world to see. They better understand the process of speciation, adaptation, and extinction. Their eyes are opened to the world of conservation.

Since 1998, over 10,000 children have visited the facilities, seeing bird species they may have only heard about from their elders. They see first hand the dedication and effort being applied to saving the last of the last and discover that they will play a part in planning the future health of their island home, and how each small step toward recovery of their island’s health plays a part in the quality of life for the entire world. After a visit to the breeding centers, the children are filled with the pride of knowing that where they live is different than anywhere else in the world, and that what remains is worth saving. It is a cultural experience that is sure to last a lifetime for the students. We are trying to plan for 100 years…or even longer. We are teaching the children well.

Alan Lieberman is the program director for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

Alala Aviary Renovations in Maui

Posted at 9:11 am October 2, 2003 by Alan Lieberman

 Alala aviaryIn addition to the new `alala aviaries being built at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, there have been significant renovations made to one of the `alala aviary complexes at the Maui Bird Conservation Center.

In 1975, the Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) set up the first captive flock of `alala on the Big Island at Pohakaloa. `Alala were moved to the island of Maui in 1986 where they were installed in the converted Olinda minimum security prison. Two large aviary complexes containing eight aviaries each were built to house and breed the newly arriving `alala. In 1996, the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program was requested by DLNR to assume the management of the facility, and the center’s name was changed to the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC).

The aviaries at MBCC were originally built with untreated and unprotected (i.e. unpainted) lumber. Unfortunately, after nearly 20 years of exposure to Hawaii’s moist and warm climate, the aviaries and their mosquito netting began to deteriorate, risking the escape of birds as well as providing ingress to mosquitoes and other pests. The integrity of the mosquito netting is important to prevent infection from mosquito-borne diseases. The aviaries needed an upgrade quickly before birds were lost. With only 40 birds in captivity (the entire world population!) there was no time to lose. The cost of replacing the rotting lumber and decayed mosquito netting was generously provided by our conservation partners: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

Alan Lieberman is the program director for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

Two New `Alala Aviaries Soon Go Into Service

Posted at 9:11 am September 12, 2003 by Alan Lieberman

 PalillaAs the captive population of `alala grows, it becomes necessary to increase the number of aviaries to accommodate the additional birds. The species is now considered to be extinct in the wild, so every effort must be made to maintain and, indeed, increase the number of birds in the managed captive flock in preparation for the future release of the birds into protected managed habitat.

Two new `alala aviaries are under construction at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center. They follow a similar pattern to the 10 aviaries that were built previously. The aviaries measure 20 feet by 50 feet, and are covered by a combination of hardware cloth and mosquito netting, which offers protection from mosquitoes that carry avian pox, malaria, and West Nile virus. These aviaries have proven to be very successful both in maintaining adult birds and in the effort to propagate the species. The captive flock, now maintained at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers, totals 40 birds, with the most recent addition of four chicks hatched and reared in 2003.

Alan Lieberman is the program director for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

First Breeding of the Endangered Hawaii `Akepa

Posted at 9:10 am August 10, 2003 by Alan Lieberman

 Akepa chickThe aviculturists at the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program celebrated a “first” on June 3, 2003. The focus of our excitement was something small in size but significant nevertheless. We had propagated the world’s first captive-hatched Hawaii ‘akepa!

The Hawaii ‘akepa Loxops coccineus is a small forest bird found only on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is very small, only 6 to 7 inches (15 to 18 centimeters) long and 0.35 to 0.42 ounces (10 to 12 grams). Adult females are olive green and adult males are bright orange.

After several years without success, one of our four pairs started feeding each other: love was in the air! The male displayed to the female with songs and looping flights, and the female began to carry nesting material into one of the artificial nests that was provided. One day, she didn’t come out of the nest and we guessed she had an egg. We watched her very closely for the two-week incubation period that it would take for the egg to hatch. The day after we believe the chick hatched, the female left the nest and never returned, a sure sign that something was wrong. We decided to take a closer look and climbed up to peer into the nest’s entrance hole.

The female had constructed a poor nest and the interior was quite cold. On the bottom of the nest was a tiny chick. The chick was not moving and we feared it had died from hypothermia. However, once in a warm human hand it kicked a tiny leg; it was just barely alive! We put the hatchling in a heated brooder-box, and the chick recovered remarkably well. It is now a part of our propagation and release efforts for endangered Hawaiian birds.

Alan Lieberman is the program director for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

Puaiohi Recovery Program Moves Forward

Posted at 9:10 am July 2, 2003 by Alan Lieberman

 The puaiohi Myadestes palmeri is an endangered cocoa-brown songster from the dripping forests of the Alaka`i Wilderness Area on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The recovery effort for this bird relies on the cooperation of various organizations: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), U.S. Geological Survey’s Biological Resources Division, the State of Hawaii’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and the San Diego Zoo. In a meeting held in Honolulu, Hawaii on June 30, 2003, representatives from each of the agencies and organizations presented the results of the past year, reviewed the status of the program, and agreed on common goals to accomplish for the next year.

The role of the Zoo will again be to rear puaiohi in captivity, parent-rearing and hand-rearing as many as 18 (or more!) chicks for release in January 2004. The Zoo will be responsible for transporting the chicks, caring for them in the field, releasing the birds, and using biotelemetry to monitor their health, status, and movements for the first 30 days after their release. The State of Hawaii will be responsible for managing the habitat in the release area (predator control), and the long-term monitoring of the released birds and the total population, which is now estimated to be over 300 birds. We believe the release of 60 puaiohi over the past five years has played a significant part in the increase in the wild population. The USFWS provides funding (crucial!) for both programs.

These types of programs cannot succeed without cooperation, understanding, and sometimes a bit of patience and tolerance. No one person, organization, or agency can achieve recovery by working alone.

Alan Lieberman is the program director for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

Alala Chicks Being Puppet Fed

Posted at 9:04 am June 18, 2003 by Alan Lieberman

 PuppetVery often we hear the comment, “So ugly, only a mother could love it.” Well, here at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, we must all be mothers, or at least surrogate mothers, because we really do have an emotional as well as professional bond with these `alala Corvus hawaiiensis chicks. This year’s `alala breeding program has been slower than we anticipated, but productive nevertheless. The three chicks being reared at the Center are now out of their hatchers and are being reared together in a box brooder. These youngsters are reared together, as they would be in nature, to help them develop the behaviors appropriate for an `alala. At about nine or ten days of age, they are covered in pinfeathers and down with their eye slits just beginning to open. As soon as they can see, we will begin to feed them with an `alala puppet so as not to imprint the chicks on their human “mothers.”

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Alala Eggs Laid

Posted at 9:04 am June 2, 2003 by Alan Lieberman

 EggsTo the fisherman, it’s hooking a fat-bellied bass just before the sun goes down. For the bird-watcher, it’s catching a glimpse of a feathered rarity, never before seen in this locale. And for the biologists at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers, it’s the perfectly made nest, filled with four intact eggs, each fertile and developing into an `alala embryo, soon to be chicks. Such was the thrill of peeking into Ula’s nest to confirm the four eggs, each perfectly shelled and each with a nascent embryo.

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Breeding Season

Posted at 1:41 pm May 1, 2003 by Alan Lieberman

 Nest BoxBreeding season is, unquestionably, the most exciting time for the biologists in the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. This is why we are here, why we come to work in the early morning rain and stay until darkness forces the birds to roost. The first `alala Corvus hawaiiensis egg of the season is greeted with exhilaration and some trepidation. The captive `alala population has, for many seasons, laid eggs that are problematic to say the least. The lack of genetic diversity and the behavioral variability in the breeding adults often produces eggs that are less than perfect.

In order to get the best results from our breeding pairs, we closely monitor the birds using closed-circuit video cameras to determine when pairs are bickering (so we can separate them), when eggs are laid, and when it is best to remove eggs for artificial incubation. Although the females often are good ” sitters,” we elect to remove eggs so that the females will lay additional clutches of eggs for maximum production.

In the first week of May 2003, `alala female Kilakila laid her first egg. Her mate, Pikoi, had been separated the day before after showing signs of aggression. Fortunately, birds have the ability to store sperm for several days, so there was little fear that separating the male from the female would present any problems with fertility. As anticipated, based on past performance, Kilakila proved to be a steady incubator. She continued to lay eggs every other day until her clutch was completed with the fourth egg. Unfortunately, when the clutch was removed, we found one egg broken and one egg with internal membranes that were not intact (e.g. detached air cell). This latter condition is invariably fatal to the egg.

Of the remaining two eggs of the clutch, one egg is fertile and is developing well, and the other egg is too young to determine fertility. The season is off to a good start! A second pair of `alala began laying shortly after Kilikila. The female, Ula, along with her mate Kekoa, began laying in the second week of May with a four-egg clutch. Ula’s breeding history began in 1997, and she usually lays one- or two-egg clutches. We are hoping she will sit well on these four eggs, providing several days of maternal incubation.

Other exciting developments are the hatching and rearing of puaiohi by the adults in their aviaries. After several years of maximum production using artificial hatching and rearing techniques, we are now electing to allow the parents to rear their own chicks in special nest boxes. The goal is to imprint the chicks on the nest boxes, which are designed to be rat resistant. Identical nest boxes will be used in the Alaka`i Swamp where the remnant puaiohi still exist. When these young captive puaiohi are later released, they may very well seek out and use these same nesting opportunities, which will improve the success of the nest with the added protection against rat predation. This may help the chances for the species to recover from its current endangered status.

Alan Lieberman is the program director for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.