Conserving the Nature of America
Bulletin
30 Years After Extinction in the Wild, Guam Kingfisher On the Way to Flying Free Again

March 1, 2019

Contact(s):

Guam Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources 
Suzanne Medin - medinasuzanne@gmail.com 

ZSL (Zoological Society of London) 
Emma Ackerley - emma.ackerley@zsl.org; + 44 (0)20 7449 6288

The Calgary Zoo
Axel Moehrenschlager - axelm@calgaryzoo.com

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
Megan Nagel - megan_nagel@fws.gov; (808) 792-9530

 



Hagåtña, GUAM - Thirty years ago the Guam Kingfisher (sihek in the Chamorro language) was driven to the very brink of extinction. The species was saved when a handful of birds were brought into captivity by biologists. At a workshop February 12-16, hosted by Guam Department of Agriculture, Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources, experts from around the world gathered to begin planning the next steps in the recovery of the sihek - and its return to the wild.

“Guam Department of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources is honored to have received the attention of globally known individuals that are instrumental in the successful recovery of numerous endangered species,” Suzanne Medina, the lead biologist at Guam DAWR, said about the workshop.

Thanks to intensive and innovative efforts by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the handful of rescued sihek has become 137 in breeding programs throughout the mainland U.S. and Guam. Scientists and experts from Guam, federal agencies, and international conservation organizations have been working to further the recovery of the bird. Over the next six months, they will be gathering and analyzing the best available scientists and information, evaluating the next steps for the recovery of the sihek.

“This workshop is the beginning of an exciting process that will deliver a conservation strategy for releasing sihek back to the wild,” said conservation translocation specialist and coordinator of the reintroduction project Dr. John Ewen, Senior Research Fellow at ZSL’s (Zoological Society of London) Institute of Zoology.

Sihek were once common throughout the island of Guam - the only place they existed in the wild, but declined rapidly following the introduction of the brown tree snake- and invasive predator that arrived in Guam in the 1950s. As the brown tree snake spread across the island it devastated local birds, causing extinction and the near total loss of Guam’s native bird population.

Just two species of native forest birds remain on Guam, and successful recovery of the sihek to their native habitat could inspire similar recovery initiatives for other forest birds that were once on Guam.   

“Returning the sihek to the wild is of profound ecological and cultural value,” said Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager of the Calgary Zoo Foundation and Chair of the IUCN’s Conservation Translocation Specialist Group, “Success after 30 years of extinction in the wild would signify that immense challenges can be overcome when sound science is coupled with courageous action.”

The sihek is a striking cinnamon-brown bird with bright blue wings and tail. It has a long, heavy bill that indicates its predatory feeding behavior. Sihek feed entirely on animal matter including skinks, geckos, spiders, insects, and hermit crabs.  They are a “sit and wait predator” that perches motionless on exposed branches or telephone lines and swoops down to capture prey off the ground with their bill.  They are socially monogamous and pairs share responsibilities such as territory defense, incubation, and chick rearing.

“Saving the sihek will require all of us to continue to work together to ensure they have the habitat they need, free from threats such as invasive predators,” says  Megan Laut of the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, “Collaborations like this partnership are key to success and the recovery of endangered species.”

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The Guam Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources, Wildlife Section’s mission is to manage Guam’s wildlife resources for the benefit of present and future generations as well as recover endangered animal and plant species, manage sustainable game species populations, and promote public awareness of natural resources.  To learn more, visit: http://dawr.guam.gov/

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.

ZSL (Zoological Society of London) is an international conservation charity working to create a world where wildlife thrives. From investigating the health threats facing animals to helping people and wildlife live alongside each other, ZSL is committed to bringing wildlife back from the brink of extinction. Our work is realised through our ground-breaking science, our field conservation around the world and engaging millions of people through our two zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information, visit www.zsl.org.

The Calgary Zoo is home to nearly 1,000 creatures across 119 species, and is one of the city’s favourite family destinations. One third of Calgarians visit every year, and more than 97,000 have annual memberships. Operated by the Calgary Zoological Society, a not-for-profit society founded in 1929, the Calgary Zoo is one of just five zoos in Canada accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Our mission is to become Canada’s leader in wildlife conservation. To that aim, we operate a Centre for Conservation Research. Our biologists have earned international recognition in the science of species recovery and reintroduction. Learn about the steps we are taking to inspire change, and set a new path for the future: https://www.calgaryzoo.com

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/pacificislands, or connect with us through any of these social media channels at  www.facebook.com/PacificIslandsFWSwww.flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific/www.tumblr.com/blog/usfwspacific or 
www.twitter.com/USFWSPacific.


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov/. Connect with our Facebook page, follow our tweets, watch our YouTube Channel and download photos from our Flickr page.