At least 11 breeding or prospecting pairs of Ao, or Newells shearwater, were recorded at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge last year. It is the most ever found on
The Aoa seabird listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Actis found only on the Hawaiian Islands. Kauai, where the refuge is situated, is home to about 90 percent of the worlds population. A true mariner, the bird spends most of its time at sea, where it roams for thousands of miles. It returns to land during the breeding season, which runs from April to November.
Currently, the majority of Ao nest in native habitat in the mountains, making the Kilauea Point population unusual in that the birds are breeding in a coastal area. The Ao is 12 to 14 inches, with a wing span of 3035 inches. It has a glossy black back and white belly. Its black bill is sharply hooked at the tip. Its claws are well adapted for burrow excavation and climbing.
The refuges population probably was established during a translocation project from 197880, when refuge and Hawaii state biologists brought Ao eggs out of the mountain colonies, where they were being eaten by nonnative predators. To rear, the eggs were placed in the nests of Uau, or wedgetailed shearwater, another native species.
Because the numbers of Ao were rapidly declining, the project aimed to establish a population in a relatively safe area that could be actively managed. The majority of birds fledged successfully early in the project, but the refuges breeding population has remained small.
Kilauea Point Refuge was established in 1985 and expanded in 1988 to enhance seabird nesting colonies. Its ocean cliffs and open grassy slopes on an extinct volcano provide breeding grounds for migratory birds, including the Ao.
In 2007, the statefunded Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery
Project, in collaboration with the refuge, set up a social attraction project to try and encourage more Ao to breed at the refuge.
This involved two audio speakers that play the birds calls at night throughout the breeding season.
Social attraction projects have been successfully used to attract endangered seabirds in many other countries, most notably New Zealand, says Andre Raine, the Kauai projects coordinator. By playing calls of these birds at night, new birds are drawn into the area to see what is going on. If they find the area suitable, [they] may return to breed in following years. This can be a vital conservation tool for this species in other areas on Kauai in the future.
Five of the Kilauea Point Refuge Ao pairs were confirmed to have chicks last year, suggesting the breeding season at the refuge was successful. The pairs represent an important, protected population of a species that has seen dramatic population declines of approximately 75 percent in recent years.
There have been many reasons for the decline, including predation by nonnative, introduced species such as rats, barn owls and feral cats. Other problems are loss of breeding habitat to nonnative plants and animals, the effects of light pollution and collisions with power lines.
It is gratifying to work with a threatened species, which responds positively to management techniques, says refuge biologist Kim Uyehara. This suggests that the refuge can play an important role and people can make a difference in conservation and recovery of Hawaiis rare seabirds.
Dennis Fujimoto is a staff writer and photographer at The Garden Island newspaper of Lihue, HI. This article is adapted from an article that appeared in The Garden Island on Oct. 10, 2012.