Keith Swindle

Hawaiian petrel in flight.  Photo by Jim Denny.Newell's shearwater, close-up

Left:  Hawaiian petrel in flight.  Photo by Jim Denny.

Right:  Newell's shearwater close-up. USFWS photo.

Keith Swindle, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee with the Division of Law Enforcement in Honolulu, Hawaii, is dedicated to the conservation and recovery of the threatened Newell’s shearwater (Puffinus auricularis newelli) and the endangered Hawaiian dark-rumped petrel (Pterodroma phaeopygia sandwichensis) through his collaborative efforts to reduce the threat of light attraction for these species.


Based on their limited known distribution, the marginal status of known breeding populations, and known threats, the Hawaiian petrel or `ua`u was listed as endangered in 1967 and the Newell’s shearwater or `a`o was listed as threatened in 1975.  The Newell’s shearwater is a subspecies endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, where it is known to nest on Kauai, Molokai, and Hawaii.  Newell’s shearwaters may nest on Maui and in very small numbers on Oahu and Lehua Islet near Niihau.  Newell’s shearwater numbers are greatest on Kauai, which may harbor as much as 75 percent of the world’s population.  The fact that known Newell’s shearwater colonies are in remote montane locations and/or occur on slopes greater than 65 degrees suggests that predation by nonnative mammals has constrained this seabird’s breeding habitat.  Some colonies on Kauai are located in vertical cliff faces, where birds presumably are nesting in rock crevices rather than burrows.  In 1995, the population of Newell’s shearwater was estimated at 84,000 birds, with a breeding population of approximately 14,600 pairs.  Population models incorporating best estimates of breeding effort and success and anthropogenic sources of mortality including predation at the colony and mortality resulting from light attraction and collision with structures (which affects fledglings particularly) predicted a population decline of approximately 60 percent over 10 years.  Recent analysis of data trends from radar surveys revealed an overall decrease of roughly 50 to70 percent in detection rates between 1993 and 2001, signaling a probable population decline. 


The Hawaiian petrel is a large, nocturnal petrel endemic to Hawaii, where it nests on the islands of Maui, Hawaii, Lanai, and Kauai, and possibly on Molokai, the sea stacks off of Kahoolawe, and Lehua Islet.  Subfossil evidence indicates that prior to the arrival of Polynesians, Hawaiian petrels were common throughout the main Hawaiian Islands.  Similar to the Newell’s shearwater, the Hawaiian petrel’s remaining colonies occur predominantly in steep and/or remote areas, last bastions to which they have been driven by habitat loss and predation by introduced species.  The population of Hawaiian petrels is estimated at approximately 20,000 with a breeding population of between 4,500 and 5,000 pairs.  Trend models have not been developed for the entire Hawaiian petrel population, because, owing to lower numbers overall and the inaccessibility of nesting areas, currently we have fewer time-series data on this species’ abundance.


Like other seabirds of oceanic islands, the Newell’s shearwater and Hawaiian petrel have no natural land-based predators.  Both species have suffered habitat loss resulting from development and feral ungulate damage.  In addition, the fledglings of these burrow-nesting birds are highly vulnerable to artificial lights.  When they take their first flight from montane nest sites, typically at night, and instinctively seek natural light shining on water to help them find the sea, fledglings are attracted and disoriented by artificial lights, and become exhausted or collide with buildings, powerlines, and other structures.  Falling to the ground, these birds become prey to cats, rats, dogs, and mongooses, are hit by cars, or die of injuries or dehydration.  Combined with a naturally low reproductive rate and lack of natural defenses against predators, this additional threat increases the overall vulnerability of these two seabirds to anthropogenic mortality, population decline, and extinction.


Keith has taken initiative to use his combination of training as a biologist and position as a special agent with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Law Enforcement (LE) Division to provide perspective and support to the State’s Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) efforts on behalf of Kauai`s listed seabirds and to other State, Federal and private efforts to learn about and protect these species throughout the State.  His support and partnership has facilitated habitat conservation planning efforts that had been moving slowly or not at all for years prior to his arrival in Hawaii.  As an enforcement officer, Keith has been reliable, responsive, and he has demonstrated excellent judgment and restraint in exercising authority versus persuasion when working with entities responsible for take of listed birds. He has an upbeat personality and great sense of humor that contribute to the interagency "team" success in negotiating with potential HCP participants.  Keith also expresses a passion and devotion to seabird recovery on Kaua'i and to sharing information in an instructive and productive way.  Such personality and passion is an asset when delivering what many recipients initially perceive as a threatening message about violation of the Endangered Species Act. 


Keith has dedicated large amounts of his time on and off the job to assisting in recovery efforts for Hawaii’s listed seabirds and for other seabirds that nest in the main Hawaiian Islands, especially on the island of Kaua`i, where most of the world’s population of Newell’s shearwaters and a substantial proportion of the world’s Hawaiian petrels breed. 


Keith has worked very closely with USFWS - Ecological Services, USFWS - Refuges, the State of Hawaii, private organizations and businesses, and public utilities to reduce the threat of light attraction for listed seabirds on Kauai and to ensure the best conservation benefit to these seabirds of HCP effort on the island.  Keith initiated or has been closely involved in seabird conservation efforts too numerous to list here.  Highlights include:



As a direct result of Keith’s involvement and cooperation with others:




Keith’s efforts involve a cooperative effort between multiple stakeholders or partner organizations including the State of Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Hawaii Department of Transportation (Harbors Division and Airport Division), County of Kauai, Hawaii State House Representative Mina Morita, and multiple private businesses (e.g., Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Nawiliwili Harbor, and Chevron Port Allen).


 Shielded light fixtureShielded light fixture

Examples of shielded lights, designed to minimize light leakage, that have resulted from Keith Swindle's work on Kauai (photos courtesy of Andrea Erichsen).