Bird of the Week: Newell's Shearwater

 

The low, moaning call of Newell’s Shearwater led to its local name of 'A'o. Found only in Hawai'i, most of these small, endangered seabirds nest on the slopes and cliffs of Kaua'i. Small colonies also exist on Moloka'i, Maui, and the Big Island.

 

All shearwaters, like the Pink-footed, nest in burrows, which they visit only at night to care for their eggs and young. The birds forage over the open ocean, diving to depths of over 150 feet in pursuit of schooling fish and squid.

 

Newell's Shearwater was thought to be extinct at the beginning of the 20th century but was rediscovered in 1947. Unfortunately, its status remains precarious. It was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975; between 1993 and 2008, its numbers declined by an alarming 75 percent.

 

The threats to this species are extensive. Hurricanes have severely impacted many of the forests where these shearwaters breed, and invasive plants and animals such as pigs and goats have further degraded these habitats. Predation at nest burrows by non-native cats, rats, and mongoose is another significant threat.

 

 

Collisions with power lines kill many shearwaters traveling to and from their nest burrows. Young birds heading to sea for the first time are often attracted by the artificial lighting of playing fields, hotels, resorts, and streets. They become disoriented and circle the lights until they become exhausted and fall to the ground, where they may be injured or killed by cars, cats and dogs, or suffer starvation and dehydration.

 

ABC is working to save the Newell's Shearwater and other Hawaiian birds through a variety of approaches, including invasive species control, fencing off nesting colonies, reducing mortality from light pollution, and when necessary, legal action.

 

In one effort, ABC is collaborating on a project with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Rim Conservation, and the Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project to build a predator-proof fence at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai. Newell's Shearwaters will be translocated to the site in late 2015, with the goal of creating a new colony of shearwaters safe from non-native terrestrial predators.