Endangered Maui birds to be moved in effort to save species

  • A kiwikiu. (National Park Service/Special to West Hawaii Today)

HONOLULU — Scientists will decide whether to establish a captive breeding program on the U.S. mainland in an attempt to prevent the extinction of a bird species only found on Maui, officials said.

A decision about the plan to save the endangered kiwikiu is expected at a meeting of project partners Thursday, The Hawaii Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

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A nonprofit bird facility on the mainland has expressed interest in a kiwikiu captive-breeding program, officials said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serv­ice, one of the project partners, did not immediately respond to a request for information.

Also known as the Maui parrotbill, the population of yellow and olive-green forest birds has dwindled to fewer than 300.

The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project halted a program to establish a population on the windward slopes of Maui’s Haleakala volcano after mosquito-borne avian malaria killed 10 of 13 birds set to be released in October, including one that died before it was set free. The final three are missing and presumed dead.

Recovery project officials hope the program on the mainland will buy time for the Maui parrotbill. Scientists said they need to find new ways to deal with the growing number of mosquitoes moving higher in forest elevation as Hawaii’s climate grows warmer.

“We have only a small window to do anything,” Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project Coordinator Hanna Mounce said.

The kiwikiu has suffered over the last century from habitat loss, invasive species, disease. and predators. Once found throughout low and highland forests of Maui and Molokai, the species has been relegated to the higher elevations of windward Haleakala, officials said.

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The bird’s range continues to shrink as climate change accelerates and mosquitoes carrying avian malaria move higher up the mountain, officials said.

Following the bird deaths last year, the project officials conducted a mosquito abundance survey of the release area and found a seven-fold increase since the previous survey.

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