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Nihoa Millerbird Translocations

USFWS

Translocation of passerine species in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands has been part of discussions by conservation biologists since Bryan (1912) mentioned the need to translocate the Laysan millerbird (Acrocephalus familiaris familiaris) to buffer the species from extinction. Unfortunately the Laysan millerbird went extinct around 1923, the same year the Nihoa millerbird (Acrocephalus familiaris kingi) was scientifically described by Alexander Wetmore.

Sheldon Plentovich

  • Until recently, the critically endangered Nihoa millerbird consisted of a single, small population highly vulnerable to chance events such as severe storms and droughts, accidental introduction of alien species and diseases, and population fluctuations. But new management actions informed by years of research that culminated in the successful translocation of 24 millerbirds from Nihoa to Laysan, provides hope that a second population can flourish and that the Laysan ecosystem can be further restored.

    The translocation was the culmination of five years of research and two rounds of captive feeding trials on Nihoa, and was only possible after more than 20 years of habitat restoration on Laysan. Since 2006 the Pacific Island Coastal Program has been intimately involved in site evaluation, research, translocation planning, execution, and monitoring. Once Laysan was identified as the most suitable island for translocation, protocols were written and reviewed by experts and interested parties from around the world. In Sept 2011, with the translocation protocols as a guide, the first 24 Nihoa millerbirds were moved to Laysan.  All birds survived transport, and were released on Laysan with a mean weight gain of 5.3% (range: -1.7 to +17.6%). All 24 birds were observed singing and conducting other territorial interactions by 4 October, and nesting behaviors such as begging and allofeeding were observed within the first few weeks. The first chick was produced in March. In August 2012 we the final 26 birds from Nihoa to Laysan which gave us a total of 50 founders, the goal outlined in our translocation protocols. The millerbird population on Laysan continues to grow and flourish with a population estimate of 165 as of the summer of 2014.

    The Pacific Island Coastal Program has provided funds and technical assistance throughout this process starting with the 2006 site evaluation of potential sites for the translocation of Nihoa passerines. Since August 2010, the Pacific Islands Coastal Program coordinator has been the Millerbird translocation project leader responsible (along with a talented, devoted team) for planning, logistics, contracting/purchasing, permitting, and execution of the project.


    Watch Millerbird Video

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