Archive for 2004

Palila: Welcome Back, Old Friends

Posted at 8:45 am December 20, 2004 by Alan Lieberman

In any release program in which we reintroduce captive propagated birds to the wild, we consider four basic steps that must be reached in order to determine that the overall program has been successful. The first step is breeding enough birds in captivity to form a release cohort. The second step is to release the cohort and support the birds to the point where they are independent in the wild and live long enough to support themselves in their new habitat (every parent’s dream for their child anxious to leave home).

Step three is the birds should live long enough to enter into a breeding season and breed successfully. The fourth step is that enough birds, both release birds and their progeny, reproduce with enough success to actually establish a flock that is more than simply self-sustaining but expands to the point of reaching the “carrying capacity” of the new habitat.

Of course, there are many, many factors that are required that are supernumerary to the actual propagation and release of captive birds that support the success of such an effort, such as; predator control, disease control, elimination of invasive plant and animal pests, and forest rehabilitation, just to name a few.

In late 2003, we released the very first two cohorts of 10 palila on Puu Mali, Mauna Kea (Step #1 completed). Of the 10 birds we now know that the majority of the birds survived to independence and indeed, two of the birds nested and laid an egg (the egg was later determined infertile). Step #2 and #3 nearly completed. We are in the process of bolstering the release by putting a new cohort of five palila in the Puu Mali habitat. This will hasten the maturation of the flock and hopefully will successfully complete the critical and final Step #4. This last step will require many generations of palila reproduction and several more seasons of releases.

 palila at the hack aviaryPerhaps the most rewarding event that has occurred at this year’s release of the five palila is the return to the release aviary of four of the eight (we know that seven or eight of the birds survived the first release) palila that we released over a year ago. All four look great, now being truly savvy warriors of the mamane fields that surround the site. They have returned to the aviary to not only introduce themselves to the new release candidates, but to take advantage of the food treats which are fed to support the new release birds. It’s like old friends dropping by for Happy Hour (except in this case Happy Hour starts at sunrise!).

It is very encouraging to see these old friends looking so healthy. It is very polite of them to show us that, although reared in a captive environment, they are fully capable of surviving (and breeding) long term in recovering native habitat when given the support of resource management that will always be required at some level to minimize the limiting factors. Welcome back, old friends. It’s great to see you all!

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

Connecting to Community: A Conservation Imperative

Posted at 10:28 am November 2, 2004 by Alan Lieberman

 LogoOne of the most important qualities of any successful conservation program is making that key connection between the program and the community. The Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program works hard to keep the local population involved and informed. In some cases, the local community can actually participate in our program’s agenda.

On November 6, we held our annual Open House for the community of Volcano that surrounds our Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island of Hawaii. As an added bonus, we invited eight local wildlife artists to display their crafts. Represented were photography, silk screen, leaded glass, painting on various media, ceramics, and metal sculpture. The day was a huge success, with over 80 people taking the 4 guided tours of the facility, enjoying the baked goods provided by our program staff and the artists, and buying up wonderful handicrafts, artwork, and our newly fabricated T-shirts with a design by Emily Herb and Leayne Patch (see above). The tours began at 10 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m. Although scheduled to last two hours, there was so much to see and so many good questions, none of the tours ended on time. That’s a good sign!

Our Volcano neighbors are keenly aware of the environmental issues facing this island, Hawaii state, and the world, and are very proactive in community affairs and the programs aimed at improving the quality of life in our area. By opening our doors and showing our neighbors what we are doing and how well we are doing it, we are creating goodwill and a conservation optimism that will help us all reach our goals for endangered species recovery.

Thank you, Volcano Community, for your support and understanding!

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

The Rarest Bird in the World

Posted at 11:10 am October 2, 2004 by Alan Lieberman

 po'ouliThere are so many rare species of birds in the world, more than one barroom argument has erupted over which is indeed the rarest of them all. On September 10, 2004, the po`ouli, the species that must truly be considered the rarest in the world, became part of the Maui Bird Conservation Center’s (MBCC) propagation and recovery program.

The po`ouli is a small member of the Hawaiian honeycreeper family. The world population is known to be no more than three individuals, all found in the rain forests of Maui’s Hanawi Natural Area Reserve on the eastern slopes of Mt. Haleakala. The po`ouli wasn’t even discovered by scientists until 1973 with an initial population estimate of no more than 250 birds. The population has steadily decreased since its initial discovery. Only three birds have been reliably sighted over the past few years. All three birds were banded in 1997, and despite years of searching, field biologists are fairly certain that there are no additional birds to be found.

After many meetings, discussions, (and some argument), the consensus was to bring these three birds into captivity to begin the long, slow, and risky prospect of captivite breeding. The first po`ouli was caught on the evening of September 9 by Hawaii state biologists and helicoptered to the MBCC early the next morning. The bird is in good health despite missing one eye, and known to be at least eight years old. Its sex is being determined through chromosomal evaluation. It eagerly eats small tree snails, waxmoth larvae, wild-captured insects, and native Hawaiian berries. Our hopes are for a long life for this bird, and Godspeed to the field biologists who are anxiously preparing to capture the other two po`ouli. The future of the species depends on the dedication and expertise of all players in this conservation drama.

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

Helping Palila Chicks

Posted at 11:13 am August 2, 2004 by Alan Lieberman

 Lynn with palilaCaptive propagation programs can often maximize both the quantity and quality of chick production, an advantage when dealing with very rare and endangered species. The palila propagation effort benefits from three factors: video monitoring, compatible and tolerant breeding pairs, and very talented hand-feeders.

Thanks to video monitoring, we can evaluate and review parental behavior at the nest and make management decisions based on how well the parents are attending to their eggs and chicks. In the case of one pair of breeding palila at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, video monitoring was used to determine that the female (only the hen incubates) was an excellent incubator. But once the chicks hatched, the parents proved to be inconsistent feeders and brooders (the female broods and feeds, the male only feeds). It was decided to remove one of the two chicks and give it a “boost” for two days with artificial heat and feeding. The parents were left to attend to the one remaining chick with the intention of rotating the chicks in and out of the nest throughout the nesting period. We also decided to put a third chick into the nest rotation. This chick was from another pair of palila that had previously abandoned their clutch.

By rotating one chick at a time through the parents’ nest every two days while we hand-attend to the other two chicks, we expose each of the chicks to parental care for a period of time. Confusing? You bet it is! But, this exposure to parental care will enhance all three chicks’ future behavior as release birds or as captive breeders. Although monitoring nests and manipulating chicks is labor intensive, the resultant quality of the chicks is ample reward for the investment of time.

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

How to Get an Egg to Gain/Lose Weight

Posted at 11:13 am July 2, 2004 by Alan Lieberman

 EggsPerhaps the most challenging task in managing a captive flock of birds, especially a flock that consistently demonstrates the reproductive anomalies consistent with inbreeding, is how to get an egg to lose the proper amount of weight.

All avian eggs must lose weight in order to hatch successfully. The loss of weight is a result of the transfer of gases and moisture from inside the egg, through the shell, into the environment. The captive flock of `alala lay eggs that often have shells that are either too porous, or not porous enough, hence eggs that either lose too much weight or not enough weight.

In an effort to control the weight loss of those eggs with “difficult shells,” we adjust the humidity in the incubators and manage the adult’s diet (especially calcium levels). We also have several techniques that aim to fine-tune the passage of moisture and gases across the shell. In the case of too great a weight loss, biologists will actually “paint” the shell with a thin coating of non-toxic glue or fingernail polish, or even wrap the egg in a thin layer of paraffin, being careful to leave a band of exposed shell which allows the chick to “pip” the shell when it is ready to hatch. In the case of an egg that doesn’t lose enough weight, the shell can be lightly sanded or even incubated on a bed of silica gel, a well-known, non-toxic desiccant.

The results of these techniques, although not always successful, can help maximize the number of chicks that successfully hatch. In 2004, 12 `alala chicks hatched, a new record for the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

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

Alala Hatching Update: Heading for Record

Posted at 11:14 am June 2, 2004 by Alan Lieberman

 alala chicksThe 2004 breeding season for ‘alala is beginning to shape up as one for the record books. The best breeding season until now was seven years ago (1997) when there were nine chicks hatched and reared. Thus far this season, the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program has hatched and is now rearing nine chicks, and the season isn’t over yet. No one likes to count their chicks before they hatch, so we must show restraint and merely say, “All is looking good for a double-digit chick season, the first ever!”

In the program, there are a total of 40 adult ‘alala plus this season’s first 9 chicks. This makes a grand total of 49 ‘alala for the entire world, since the species is likely extinct in the wild. These 9 chicks represent a nearly 25 percent increase in the world population. There are 13 pairs of birds set up for breeding; of these, 11 females have laid eggs, with 8 females producing fertile eggs, showing that both the females AND males are doing their respective jobs. Three of the pairs are housed in the Maui facility and ten of the pairs are at the Keauhou facility on the Big Island.

The chicks are initially fed a diet of bee larvae, cricket innards, and hard-boiled egg. As they grow, items like mouse parts, papaya, and mealworm soft parts are added to the mix. As soon as the chicks’ eyes begin to open (at about two weeks of age) they are fed using an ‘alala puppet to help them recognize themselves as ‘alala (and not as the humans who are doing the feeding). At a little more than one month of age, the chicks will begin to spend time in an outside aviary so they can listen and watch the adult ‘alala and begin the process of learning how to become a member of their species.

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

Maui Parrotbill Hatches a Welcome Addition to Program

Posted at 11:15 am May 2, 2004 by Alan Lieberman

 Maui Parrotbill chickTo the delight of the staff at the Maui Bird Conservation Center, a Maui parrotbill chick hatched on May 17, 2004. This is the first chick of this species to hatch at the center from a captive-laid egg. This egg was removed from the nest two weeks before to avoid damage by the parents. They had already broken the first egg laid this year and the program did not want to risk losing the second egg.

The mother of the egg was hatched in captivity in 1999 from a wild-collected egg and the male was brought to the Center for rehabilitation after it was injured in the field in a mist-netting mishap in 2001. The pair has been socialized together for the past two years but this is the first year they actually began to lay eggs.

The chick will initially be fed a diet of bee larvae, bits of crumbled hardboiled egg, and the soft inner parts of adult crickets. As the chick grows, additional food items will include wax moth larvae, mealworms, and supplementation of vitamins, calcium, and bone meal. The chick will fledge in about three weeks and wean in about two months. When fully independent, this chick, depending on its sex, will become part of the captive-breeding flock at either the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center or the Maui Bird Conservation Center.

This species is part of the reintroduction program that aims to re-establish this unique Hawaiian honeycreeper into historical habitat on the slopes on Haleakala Volcano on East Maui. This recovery effort is part of a conservation partnership between the San Diego Zoo, the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and Haleakala National Park.

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

We Like to Watch: Breeding Management Using Video Observation

Posted at 11:16 am April 2, 2004 by Alan Lieberman

 monitoring the nestsOne of the most useful tools in the management of captive pairs of birds is video observation. Not only do video observations satisfy one’s curiosity as to who is doing what to whom, carefully managed observations can reveal very interesting patterns of behavior. These careful and methodical observations allow the biologists at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation centers to record critical events in the breeding cycle of difficult-to-manage species like the `alala.

Video recordings are made daily at prescribed times and then played back in time-lapse mode. Time-lapse will slow down the activity of the birds so the biologists can identify behaviors and events. Each behavior is recorded as being “positive” (copulation, nest forming, egg laying, and incubation) or “negative” (aggression, displacement, inappropriate “play”). Based on these observations, program managers can evaluate which pairs are getting along and should be left together, and which pairs are best split up and paired with new birds in the hope of improving reproduction.

Once eggs are laid, video monitoring will allow biologists to determine if the female is a good mother or not. A good hen will sit on her eggs at least 80 percent of the time. By watching and calculating her nest attentiveness, it is possible to determine the best time to remove eggs from the nest for artificial incubation.

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

Captive Palila Released on the Northern Slopes of Mauna Kea

Posted at 11:16 am January 2, 2004 by Alan Lieberman

 Palila releaseA flock of ten palila was reintroduced to the area of Puu Mali on the north side of Mauna Kea Volcano. This important event adds another species to the growing list of Hawaiian species propagated and released into native habitat. These ten individuals included three birds that were hatched in 1996 from wild eggs that were brought into captivity and have produced over 20 offspring since then.

The palila is a unique, seed-eating Hawaiian honeycreeper that lives only in the high elevation mamane forests on Mauna Kea. Its dependence on the flowers, leaves, and pods of the mamane tree, a delicacy for foraging mammals, makes it especially vulnerable to extinction.

Currently, the only flock of wild palila in the world persists on the western side of Mauna Kea. It is hoped that this newly released flock will form the nucleus of a new, separate population that will help safeguard the species from threats of extinction in the event of any future catastrophic events such as inclement weather, fire, drought, or disease.

The ten birds were released from field aviaries in two flocks of five birds each. Supplemental food continues to be offered on the outside of the aviary while the birds learn how to forage on their own and become independent. Each bird is fitted with a tiny transmitter that allows it to be monitored.

The habitat and palila restoration project in Puu Mali is a collaborative effort involving the Hawaii Division of Land and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geologic Survey’s Biological Resources Division, and the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

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