WatchList Species Account for Laysan Finch (Telespiza cantans)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Photo: Sheila Conant

The Laysan Finch is naturally restricted to the remote island of Laysan in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, with a small introduced population on Pearl and Hermes Atoll; an introduced population at Midway Atoll was extirpated by rats around 1944.


At present the population fluctuates around 11,000 individuals. In the early 20th century, the population was severely impacted by the depredations on the island’s vegetation by introduced European rabbits and the finch population declined to as few as 100 individuals. Once the rabbits had died off from starvation, the finch recovered its numbers. An omnivorous species, it apparently survived by eating eggs of marine birds, seeds, and carrion; two other endemic passerines that depended on insects and nectar became extinct during this ecological crisis, as did a nonpasserine, the Laysan Rail.


The bird is excessively tame and trusting and can be captured by hand. Laysan is a flat, sandy island, about 988 acres in size. In the interior is a large, shallow, hypersaline lake with mudflats. The finch uses all the plant associations on the island. No predators are established on the island, but occasional visiting raptors will take finches. Extreme weather causes nest failure and direct mortality, and the population size is regulated primarily by weather. Introduction of disease or predators such as rats to the island could have a devastating effect on the bird. Alien plants degrade the habitat, and several plant species did not reemerge once the rabbits were gone.


One alien plant, sandbur, was the subject of an eradication effort after researchers found it was displacing vegetation on the island, including the bunchgrass in which the finch nests. Like the Nihoa Finch, the Laysan Finch is a member of the Hawaiian Honeycreeper subfamily. The bird is listed as federally endangered and as vulnerable under IUCN - World Conservation Union Criteria.