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Rescued Newell’s Shearwater Chick Heads To Sea – Miracle Bird Highlights Extraordinary Recovery Effort

At the Nihoku predator-proof enclosure at the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, it was designated Newell’s Shearwater (‘A‘o) Chick #8.  On Sunday evening this healthy chick left its manmade burrow and headed out to sea; one of eight young birds that had been translocated to Nihoku as part of an extraordinary effort to save Hawai‘i’s endemic seabirds from extinction.

newells-shearwater-chick“This particular chick holds a special place in our hearts because it was rescued from one of the upper montane colonies after being found lost, alone, and hungry on a trial in the Hono o Na Pali Natural Area Reserve in August,” explained Dr. Andre Raine of the Kaua‘i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project (KESRP). “If the chick had been left by itself in the colony it would have surely died, so it’s great to see it now flying safely out to sea as a strong and healthy fledgling.”

It was the first time KESRP team members have encountered a live chick out in the open. Typically the only reason why they are found outside of their burrows is because they have been attacked and eaten by predators, including rats and feral cats.

Initially, #8 was flown by KESRP to the Save our Shearwaters (SOS) program at the Kaua‘i Humane Society, where Tracy Anderson, SOS program coordinator and her staff gave it fluids and food. Ultimately it was translocated to the Nihoku enclosure, where over the course of the past month it continued getting daily feedings and health checks. “I’m glad that we could give him a second chance and that he might be one of the founders of this new colony of Newell’s Shearwaters”.

Robby Kohley of Pacific Rim Conservation (PRC) is one of the team members responsible for the daily care of this chick.  He said, “It’s one of those lucky things that the colony monitoring team people found this little chick.  It acclimated to its burrow well and its weight and wing cord (wing length) steadily increased, so it’s a nice team effort. There are so many birds that don’t make it; the fact that they were able to rescue this bird is pretty exciting. It is a bit of a miracle and a bright spot.

Adding to the bright spots is the fledging of 4 other Newell’s Shearwaters translocated to the Nihoku enclosure from burrows deep in Kaua‘i’s mountain forests in September. The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and its Hawai‘i partners conducted the first ever translocation of endangered Newell’s Shearwaters in an effort to establish a protected breeding colony at the national wildlife refuge.

Dr. Lindsay Young, project coordinator with PRC explained, “Team members removed seven, large, healthy chicks from their mountain burrows by hand.  Once they arrived at Nihoku their growth was carefully monitored and they were hand fed daily, a slurry of fish and squid.  Once they were big enough, their caretakers opened their burrows to allow them to depart when the time came.”

Newell’s Shearwater chicks imprint on their birth colony location, once they emerge from their burrows, and as adults will return to breed at the same colony. Since the chicks were removed from their natural burrows before the critical imprinting stage, it’s hoped they’ll imprint on the artificial burrows and return to the predator-proof colony as adults in three to five years.

Hannah Nevins, director of ABC’s Seabird Program said, “The new colony will be the only fully protected colony of this species anywhere in the Hawaiian Islands. It’s an enormous step toward recovering this rare seabird and we hope it marks a turning point in the downward trend for this species.  The future of the Newell’s Shearwater on Kaua‘i is dependent on multiple actions, from colony protection in the mountains to creating new predator-free colonies with fences, and continuing to mitigate light and collision impacts.”

Dr. Young concluded, “We are very excited to have accomplished a major recovery objective for one of Hawaii’s endemic seabird species.  What we learn from this project will be crucial in implementing what we hope will be many more projects like this on Kaua‘i and across the state.”

The recovery team has a year’s worth of experience under its belt, having translocated endangered Hawaiian Petrels to the nearly eight acre Nihoku enclosure a year ago.  Those birds fledged successfully last year and next week a new group of Hawaiian Petrels will be removed from their mountain burrows and flown to the enclosure.

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