|Millerbird -- Image credit: R. Kohley/American Bird Conservancy & US Fish and Wildlife Service|
How did I learn of this species so far from Charleston? Well, I tend to sign regularly petitions for a variety of conservation causes, and as a result, I receive numerous e-mails from various conservation organizations. The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) sends out a weekly "Bird of the Week" e-mail which highlights a specific endangered species endemic to a particular area. I do not generally remember the information on the birds that they highlight. But this species account on the Millerbird stood out from the rest because of the fascinating links to the collaborative work for the preservation of this species being accomplished this Fall, by three organizations, the American Bird Conservancy, the US Fish and Wildlife Service -- Pacific Region, and the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument.
Two different subspecies of this bird each once inhabited two islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago, the 155 acre volcanic Nihoa and the considerably larger 1023 acre Laysan. Unfortunately, the Laysan subspecies went extinct nearly 100 years ago due to the introduction of a nonnative species of rabbit which devegetated much of the island. The rabbit has since been eradicated and the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to restore the island ecology over the last 10 years. The goal now of these organizations is to translocate a group of Nihoa Millerbirds to Laysan Island in an attempt to reestablish the Millerbird there and to hopefully expand the population of birds. Thus, if some tragedy were to strike the birds of the smaller Nihoa Island that resulted in the bird's extinction there, a population of these birds would continue to survive on Laysan.
|Map copied from Wikipedia -- from the USGS|
|Nihoa Island -- Image credit: G. Wallace/American Bird Conservancy|
After several years of planning, a team of scientists and volunteers from the three organizations implemented in September the first crucial stage of this translocation project: capturing 24 Nihoan Millerbirds and banding each of them with the usual USGS metal band and a specific combination of colored bands (for individual field identification purposes). Twelve of them were outfitted with temporary-use transmitters for better tracking. The scientists assessed the health, sex, age and general perkiness of the birds to make sure that these birds were in the best possible health to tolerate the stress of translocation to a new environment.
|Camp set up on Nihoa -- Image credit: C. Farmer/American Bird Conservancy|
|Setting up mist nests on Nihoa -- Image credit: H. Freifeld/US Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Millerbird holding cages on Nihoa -- Image credit: C. Farmer/American Bird Conservancy|
|Preparing food trays for the newly captured Millerbirds on Nihoa -- Image credit: H. Freifeld/US Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Temporary transmitter placed on 12 birds to aid in tracking -- H. Freifeld/US Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Millerbird in holding cage -- Image credit: R. Kohley/American Bird Conservancy & US Fish and Wildlife Service|
The next precarious step was to load the birds onto a zodiac to transfer to the USFWS research vessel M/V Searcher for their 3 day journey to Laysan.
|Image credit: H. Freifeld/US Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Image credit: C. Farmer/American Bird Conservancy|
|Image credit: T. Work/USGS-National Wildlife Health Research Center|
|Photo credit: H. Freifeld/US Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Image credit: R. Kohley/American Bird Conservancy & US Fish and Wildlife Service|
After off-loading the birds and setting up camp on Laysan, the Millerbird team began the process of acclimation and release of the Millerbirds. All told, the birds were captive a mere 6 days -- including the 3 days of transport.
|Millerbirds at camp on Laysan Island -- Image credit: H. Freifeld/US Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Carrying birds to the release site -- Image credit: H. Freifeld/US Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Millerbird looking out of the window of his release box -- Image credit: H. Freifeld/US Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Celebrating a release! -- Image credit: T. Speetjens/US Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Tracking newly released birds -- Image credit: C. Farmer/American Bird Conservancy|
These two researchers, Robby Kohley and Cameron Rutt, are remaining on the island through April 2012 to track the birds survival, distribution and nesting attempts.
|The Happy Millerbird Team in a celebratory photo -- Image credit: H. Freifeld/US Fish and Wildlife Service|
Kudos indeed to this dedicated team of scientists and volunteers who have worked so hard to ensure the success of this project and the survival of this species!
For more details on the project, I recommend the following links:
Nihoa Millerbird Translocation Protocols (pdf 1.85MB) (Sept.2, 2011) -- the fascinating details in the science and planning behind the project!
Slideshow: Millerbird Study trials (pre-release) -- September 2, 2011 with fabulous images of the landscape and close-ups of the birds!
FAQs - Nihoa Millerbird Translocation Frequently Asked Questions (Sept. 19, 2011) -- an excellent summary of the interesting details on the hows, whys and wherefores of this project!
Photos - Link to USFWS Flickr site (Sept. 19, 2011) -- Source of the photos used in this blog post with detailed captions and VIDEO!
And finally, we can continue to follow this project through the blog posts of Robert Kohley and Cameron Rutt, the Nihoa Millerbird Monitoring Team, who remain on Laysan, to monitor the birds. To summarize a bit, most of the males and females have paired off, established territories and have even attempted nest building and egg-laying. Finch predation on eggs has posed a problem thus far. But since the birds coped with similar types of finch predation on Nihoa, the team is hopeful that the birds will learn to deal with this. Male and female differentiation is difficult to assess with these birds and relies on wing measurements. Occasionally, a female turns out to be a small male. And thus, Robert Kohley and Cameron Rutt recently discovered via observations of one aloof bird's behavior, that "she" was actually a male, making the ration of males to females 13 to 11. Their fascinating blog posts also include tallies of bird species that have arrived on Laysan during this Fall migration. As a person who is completely unfamiliar with many species possible in the Pacific, I find these counts intriguing. But I will not spoil the details of their blog. I recommend that you follow it too!