A dozen endangered puaiohi birds were transferred from the Big Island to the Alakai Wilderness Preserve on Kaua‘i Monday, thanks to a collaborative conservation effort by the Zoological Society of San Diego, state and federal agencies, and Hawaiian Airlines.
Twenty-three puaiohi, also known as the small Kaua‘i thrush, have been transported and released into their native environment on Kaua‘i over the past week.
The flock of birds, one of which can easily fit in the palm of the hand, was reproduced and raised in a protected setting at the San Diego Zoo’s Keauhou Bird Conservation Center at Volcano on the Big Island.
On Monday, the birds were carefully placed into two onboard carrying cases and buckled into passenger seats from Hilo to Lihu‘e, accompanied by biologists Robby Kohley and Rebecca Espinoza from the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center.
After a one-hour drive into Koke‘e State Park and a one-mile hike to the trailhead of the Alakai Wilderness Preserve, the birds were placed into a protected acclimation aviary where they will live for a week before being released into the surrounding forest.
“The puaiohi is one of Hawai‘i’s most critically endangered birds and we are all doing what we can to save these birds from extinction and protect their habitat,” said David Leonard, wildlife biologist with the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “The work done to release the puaiohi back into the forest is a very complex process that takes place in a difficult area to reach, but is important to its conservation.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit also assisted in the transport. The collaborative effort is part of the Kaua‘i Endangered Forest Bird Recovery Project, which aims to monitor the birds’ reproduction and survival, as well as track newly released birds.
“It’s exhilarating to see progress made in the recovery of an endangered species,” said Alan Lieberman, conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo.
The puaiohi is native to Kaua‘i and was the last of the island’s birds to be discovered by western ornithologists.
Puaiohi feed on fleshy fruits, insects and snails, and prefer to nest in remote ravines that are difficult to access.
The current population on Kaua‘i is estimated at approximately 500 individuals.