Sunday, 4 November 2012

Really, really rare Maui birds

We have been up in the Olinda area several times, and have passed the (never open) Maui Bird Conservation Centre every time. We always wondered what went on in there. We drove by it last week and saw a sign announcing an Open House for this weekend, so we signed up for a tour and went for a visit.

Turns out the place is affiliated with the San Diego Zoo, and while not generally open to the public, hosts lots of school kids. It used to be a prison, and the re-purposing of the facility is pretty cool. They used to breed the Nene, a native goose that, in 1952, was down to a population of 30.
Apparently descended from the Canada Goose about 500,000 years ago
Now there's about 1,800 of them, and the captive breeding program has stopped.

Now the Centre's principal captive breeding focus are 3 birds, the 'Alala (the Hawaiian Crow), the Maui Parrotbill and the Puaiohi (a thrush from Kaua'i).

In 1997, the global population of the 'Alala was about 20 birds. They are officially extinct in the wild. Today, they're up to ~118, about 1/3 of which are in a breeding program at the Centre, the rest of which are in a sister facility on the Big Island.
Rare crow dude
They have one crow here who likes to imitate humane speech, and he's quite funny, even though he doesn't really "say" anything -- but it sounds like it.

The Maui Parrotbill still lives in the wild, but is critically endangered in that there's fewer than 500 of them, and they all live in two small bits (a total of only ~5,000 acres) of rainforest on the wet side of Haleakela.
Love the beak
The Centre has about a dozen birds for breeding purposes.

The last dude isn't as cute, but he's just as endangered. The only ~200 wild Puaihoi live in a swamp on Kaua'i.
One of a few in the centre 
Kinda drab for a tropical bird
Note the fine mesh on the cages. Turns out one of the biggest killers of all three of these birds is avian malaria, transmitted by mosquitos (which are not native to Hawai'i, but are here in abundance up to ~4,000' ASL). But all three of these guys have lost most of their habitat, get predated by introduced things for which they have no defense, and generally are having a hard time of it.

It was an interesting facility, and our tour guide was one of those enthusiastic, energetic types who make Red Bull nervous. We even got to see the silkworms that they breed to feed to the Parrotbills in order to keep the colour in their feathers.
Shades of Indiana Jones, on a small scale
Glad it was open, and glad we went.

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