A 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.
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