A new interagency monitoring report on Hawaiian forest birds indicates that remaining populations of at least two native endemic species of Maui forest birds are in rapid decline.
The surveys conducted in the report were the largest and most comprehensive interagency effort to research East Maui native forest birds since 1980. The research – conducted by the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Pacific Island Network, Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, State of Hawai‘i Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and the US Geological Survey, along with many partners – consisted of a broad-scale landbird survey in East Maui, including portions of Haleakala National Park.
The populations of both birds – the kiwikiu (Maui parrotbill, Pseudonestor xanthophrys) and ‘akohekohe (crested honeycreeper, Palmeria dolei) – measured 50 percent lower than previous estimates. There are fewer than 312 kiwikiu remaining in the wild, and the wild ‘akohekohe population is less than 2,411 birds. These two native endangered species are endemic to the island of Maui and are only found within the surveyed area in East Maui.
“The most recent Maui endemic forest bird to go extinct was the po‘ouli [black-faced honeycreeper, Melamprosops phaeosoma] in 2004, and based on the findings from this survey, we are worried the kiwikiu is next,” said Seth Judge, USGS wildlife research specialist and landbird monitoring coordinator with the University of Hawaiʻi.
The simultaneous decline of kiwikiu, ‘akohekohe, and another endemic forest bird, the ʻalauahio (Paroreomyza montana), over several decades are due to disease, depredation, and degradation of habitat, according to research specialists. Introduced avian malaria is the most significant long-term threat; the disease continues to spread upward in elevation due to climate change and over time may lead to dramatic declines or the extinction of most Native Hawaiian songbird species.
“Without intervention, these changes are projected to cause population declines and additional extinctions of the remaining Hawaiian forest birds,” said Dr. Hanna Mounce of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project. “It is urgent that we move forward with the recovery efforts for these species,” Mounce emphasized. “If we wait for much longer, we will not have these species left to save.”
The findings in the report provide an update of forest bird population estimates, trends within Haleakala National Park and reserves managed by the Hawai‘i Department of Forestry and Wildlife, and suggested management actions to benefit the native bird species on Maui.
“Action will need to be taken along with the support of the community and all our partners to save these Hawaiian forest birds,” said Haleakala National Park superintendent Natalie Gates. “Landscape control of avian malaria, control of non-native predators, and habitat restoration are all needed,” she said. “Currently we are exploring projects to control avian malaria in hopes of giving these unique and spectacular species a better chance of survival.”
The Maui Forest Bird Working Group is planning to reintroduce kiwikiu to the leeward region of Maui in the fall of 2019 in attempt to increase both the range and abundance of the species. Since 2013, the DOFAW, MFBRP, and the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources Plant Extinction Prevention Program have planted more than 200,000 native plants in the Nakula Forest Reserve and Kahikinui Forest Reserve in preparation for the reintroduction.
To view the full report visit: Irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2264948
Photos courtesy of National Park Service