Help Hawaii’s hyper-threatened birds

6 01 2015
Puaiohi or small Kaua'i thrush. Photo by Lucas Behnke

Puaiohi or small Kaua’i thrush. Photo by Lucas Behnke

You wouldn’t want to be a bird in Hawaii. There are more avian species threatened with extinction there than anywhere else in the USA. After humans arrived, some 70+ species have become extinct, and 31 are listed as threatened with extinction. In addition, 43% of 157 species are not native; among land birds, 69% are introduced species.

My friend, Cali Crampton asked me to promote their new crowdfunding project to reduce the threat of feral rats on Hawaiian birds. Please help if you can.

The Kaua‘i Forest Bird Recovery Project, a collaborative project of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the University of Hawaii Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, and Garden Island Research and Development, has announced the launch of a crowdfunding and outreach campaign to generate support for protecting the native birds of Kaua’i by controlling rats with humane, self-resetting rat traps.

The campaign, named “Birds, not Rats!” runs through to 31 January 2015, with goals of increasing awareness of the threats that rats pose to birds and native ecosystems, and raising at least $10,000 for rat control through many small, individual donations.

Hawai’i is at the epicentre of the current global extinction crisis. Of the original 130+ native Hawaiian bird species, many have been lost forever, and only 11 are not yet endangered. Today, Kaua’i is home to eight native forest bird species, three of which are federally listed as endangered: the puaiohi or small Kaua’i thrush, the akeke’e or Kaua’i akepa, and the akikiki or Kaua’i creeper. Populations of these birds have plummeted as much as 90% in the last five years; the akikiki and the puaiohi now number fewer than 500 individuals, and the akeke’e numbers fewer than 1000 individuals. The Kaua’i Forest Bird Recovery Project’s goal is to reverse these declines.

Rat feeding on bird eggs. Photo by Jack Jeffrey

Rat feeding on bird eggs. Photo by Jack Jeffrey

The Division of Forestry and Wildlife has identified rats as a major threat to these birds in their native habitats, says Thomas Kaiakapu, the Kaua’i wildlife program manager. “We have found rats in the most remote parts of the forest, where they feast on bird eggs and attack nesting female birds.” Rats also destroy the native vegetation by feeding on the bark, fruits, and flowers of native Hawaiian trees and shrubs. Thus, they also compete with native birds for food.

A simple and effective way to control the rat population in the forest is to set humane Goodnature® traps. “The Kaua‘i Forest Bird Recovery Project successfully tested these traps at our study site last spring,” said Project Coordinator, Dr. Lisa “Cali” Crampton. She continued, “With 37 traps donated by the American Bird Conservancy, we eradicated over 100 rats in three months with minimal human effort, but we need many more to make a real impact on the birds. Unfortunately, given cuts in federal support for endangered species conservation, we are lacking the funds to purchase more traps.”

The goal, through crowdfunding, is to amplify the Project’s ability to protect native birds by controlling the rat population in the heart of the Alaka’i Plateau on Kaua’i with the purchase and installation of an additional 25 Goodnature® rat traps. “With support from many individual donors, we can realize our objective of protecting our forest birds, and help reverse their declines,” asserts Dr. Crampton.



6 responses

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8 01 2015
Mike Christensen

Thanks Corey for bringing this to our attention. As an NRM/conservation practitioner here in Australia, this got me to thinking ….. is it possible that rats are also an issue here in Australia, particularly with regards to birds? I have never seen this even discussed as a possibility, but given that rats are widespread here and numbers of some bird species are in decline, maybe we should be giving this some thought, i.e. be looking at quantifying the effects of rats locally. At the end of the day, it may just be as large an issue as cats (at least for birds and small reptiles).


8 01 2015

I’m not sure, but rats tend to be the biggest bane on islands where more birds nest in accessible areas. I suspect rats have a more minor role relative to cats in mainland Australia, but their impacts should not be ignored. I wonder if any birdos out there have any specific examples?


8 01 2015
Mike Christensen

Couldn’t agree more, Corey, that rats on islands are a major threat. That said, many of our native birds nest in thick scrub and bushland, e.g. honeyeaters and the blue wrens. Such nesting sites are easily accessible to rats and rat numbers can be high in such areas, particularly when cats are “controlled” (as we have recently discovered on our own bush property). And that’s what got me to thinking ….. is this another one of those issues that is so obvious that it hasn’t been noticed before? hope that some of our birdos may have some info.


7 01 2015
Cali Crampton

Thanks, Corey. :) Folks reading this: we’ve reached our initial goal of 25 traps already, but more traps=fewer rats=more birds…so now we’re aiming for 100 traps. To support us, click on the Birds, not Rats! link above, or if you don’t want to donate on line, email to find out how to donate by cheque or how to support the campaign in other ways.


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