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State of the Birds Report

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Hawaiian Birds

The Race to Save Hawaiian Birds

Hawaiian Stilts by Jack Jeffrey

More bird species are vulnerable to extinction in Hawaii than anywhere else in the United States. Before the arrival of humans, the Hawaiian Islands supported 113 bird species unique in the world, including flightless geese, ibis, rails, and 59 species of Hawaiian honeycreepers.
Since humans arrived, 71 bird species have become extinct and 31 more are federally listed as threatened or endangered. Of these, 10 have not been seen in as long as 40 years and may be extinct. Humans have introduced many bird species from other parts of the world: 43% of 157 species are not native. Among landbirds, 69% are introduced species.  


Hawaii’s native birds and habitats are under siege from invasive species and disease. Immediate action is needed to prevent birds from going extinct within our lifetimes.



Saving Hawaii's Birds

  • Restoration and protection of mid-elevation forest is essential for the recovery of endangered species such as `Akiapōlā`au, Hawai`i and Maui `Ākepas, and Hawai`i Creeper.

  • A highest priority action with the greatest potential benefits for native birds is the fencing of habitats to exclude feral ungulates. This improves habitat quality and reduces numbers of disease-carrying mosquitoes (trampled areas and downed tree ferns collect water where mosquitoes breed).

  • Protecting all groups of native Hawaiian birds by federal law should be explored and implemented, such as for Hawaiian honeycreepers, which are not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

  • Targeted trapping and use of rodenticides to reduce numbers of nonnative predators such as rats, cats, and mongoose will improve nesting success and survivorship of birds.

  • Focused efforts are urgently needed to reduce the spread of invasive, exotic plants in areas important to threatened birds. Golden crownbeard needs to be eradicated from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, especially on Midway Atoll where the plant threatens to overwhelm nesting areas for the world’s largest colonies of Laysan and Black-footed albatrosses.

  • Some bird species require captive breeding to ensure the continued existence and recovery of wild populations. Release of captive-bred Palila and translocation of wild birds has resulted in the establishment of a small breeding population in a second location on the Big Island.

  • Nesting albatrosses on Midway Atoll can encounter lead-based paint peeling from World War II era buildings. On Midway Atoll, as many as 10,000 Laysan Albatross chicks die from lead poisoning each year. Cost-effective measures of reducing this threat should be further explored. 

Birds in Trouble

Federally listed as endangered: Short-tailed Albatross, Hawaiian Petrel, Nēnē, Hawaiian Duck (Koloa), Laysan Duck, Hawaiian Hawk (`Io), Hawaiian Moorhen (`Alae `Ula), Hawaiian Coot (`Alae Ke`oke`o), Hawaiian Stilt (Ae`o), Hawaiian Crow (`Alalā), O`ahu Elepaio, Nihoa Millerbird, Kāma`o, Oloma`o, Puaiohi, Kaua`i `Ō`ō, Laysan Finch, Nihoa Finch, `Ō`ū, Palila, Maui Parrotbill, Kaua`i `Akialoa, Nukupu`u, `Akiapōlā`au, Hawai`i Creeper, O`ahu `Alauahio, Kākāwahie, Hawai`i `Ākepa, Maui `Ākepa, `Ākohekohe, Po`ouli. Threatened: Newell’s Shearwater. 

  • Nearly all native Hawaiian forest birds are declining, their populations devastated by nonnative disease-carrying mosquitoes, predators, feral cattle and pigs, and loss of habitat. The Palila, found only on the Big Island, has declined from 6,600 birds in 2003 to 2,200 in 2008. The `Akikiki and `Akeke`e of Kauai have also declined dramatically since 1970 and are proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

  • Exotic plants and diseases can wreak havoc on native habitats. Golden crownbeard is overwhelming the breeding habitat of Black-footed and Laysan albatrosses in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. `Ohia rust threatens one of the most important food plants of endangered Hawaiian honeycreepers.

  • Seabirds that nest on islands, including the endangered Hawaiian Petrel, face severe threats from feral cats and other introduced species, and habitat damage by feral ungulates.

  • Since 1979, approximately 30,000 Newell’s Shearwaters, a threatened species, have collided with utility lines and structures or have been grounded after becoming confused by bright lights. Downed shearwaters often die of exhaustion, are hit by cars, or are killed by predators.



The 7,500-acre Hanawi Natural Area Reserve (above) supports some of Hawai`i’s most important concentrations of native birds, including `Ākohekohe and Maui Parrotbill. Hawai`i’s islands were once forested with native trees such as koa, `ohia, mānele, and sandalwood. Since human colonization, approximately half of these forests have been lost. Photo by Eric VanderWerf


Reasons for Hope

`Akiapōlā`au  by Jack Jeffrey

Endangered Laysan Ducks, numbering 600 on Laysan Island, have been translocated to Midway Atoll, where the population now exceeds 200 after just a few years.

Population growth of forest birds such as Hawai`i Creeper and `Akiapōlā`au has been dramatic in the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is fencing to exclude feral mammals, aggressively managing invasive plants, and replanting endangered plants. Application of these successful methods is urgently needed elsewhere.

Rats were eradicated from Midway Atoll in 1997, resulting in an increase of Bonin Petrels from an estimated 5,000 pairs in 1979 to more than 100,000 pairs in 2008, and recolonization by Tristram’s Storm-Petrels and Bulwer’s Petrels.

Island Birds: Vulnerable and Often Overlooked

Most island birds evolved on remote archipelagoes, so they are extremely vulnerable to invasive plants, wildlife introduced by humans, the onslaught of new predators, habitat degradation, and disease. In the last five centuries, 87% percent of bird extinctions worldwide have taken place on islands.

Akohekohe_HIspotlight.jpg The endangered `Ākohekohe lives in the native forests of Maui. In its very restricted range, `Ākohekohe are vulnerable to habitat degradation by introduced plants and by the grazing of introduced cattle, pigs, and goats. Fencing to control feral mammals will help to stabilize or reverse population declines. Photo by Jack Jeffrey

Most of Hawaii’s conservation crises result from the introduction of nonnative plants and animals, but climate change is a growing concern. The leading threats to Hawaiian birds include habitat degradation from trampling and grazing by introduced ungulates; nonnative predators (e.g., feral cats, mongooses, rats); nonnative plants and diseases; and bird diseases spread by introduced mosquitoes.

Most native birds are now largely restricted to forests above the mosquito line at about 5,000 feet, a haven that is expected to shrink as increasing global temperatures enable mosquitoes to survive at higher altitudes. In addition, rising sea level is projected to inundate important breeding sites for many species, especially for seabirds on the low-lying Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

More Information

Read more about the plight of birds on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Marianas, American Samoa, remote Pacific Islands, and Navassa Island.


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