MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, HI, UNITED STATES
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII - Volunteers took wedge-tailed shearwater birds under their wing, tracking their development during a bird count held Sept. 9, 2013 near Fort Hase Beach.
The annual count is one of several efforts to help the birds’ survival and is led by Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s Environmental Compliance and Protection Department.
“They aren’t endangered birds, but are federally protected and they face several dangers,” said Todd Russell, the natural resources manager at the base’s Environmental Compliance and Protection Department. “They nest near the open beach, burrowing in the ground or using cover and that can be vulnerable.”
The department counted 181 chicks in an area aboard the base in 2007, but only three chicks were found in the same area in 2009. Russell said the changes are due to an invasion of yellow crazy ants, a foreign pest species that has caused problems for native Pacific region animals. Russell said no one knows how the ants were introduced, but they wreak havoc on the wedge-tailed shearwater birds.
“Imagine in the burrows all those ants, crawling around on your eyes, and you don’t have hands to swipe them away,” he said. “The birds can sometimes abandon their eggs or young. The ants don’t give them any rest.”
During the count, volunteers searched sandy burrows near the shore to find and document the development of baby chicks.
“When we carefully pull out the birds, we also counted any yellow crazy ants in or near their burrow,” said Krista Read, a natural resource technician with
Volunteers took photos of the chicks for later study. They also weighed each chick and measured their developing physical traits. A normal size chick is approximately 500 to 800 grams, said Sheldon Plentovich, the Pacific Islands coastal program coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The birds that have ants in their burrows look very different,” said Plentovich, who volunteered to count and document the chicks. “They’re smaller, and they have
Russell estimates there are more than 300 infant birds total on base this year. However several are poorly developed.
Russell said the birds also have to worry about other larger predators, like dogs. Areas near the Kailua gate of the base are restricted, especially to dogs, because of the potential for destruction.
“Once a dog in the restricted area wiped out 20 to 30 birds,” Russell said. “The birds don’t have any other place to live in Hawaii, just offshore areas here and some other places in the main islands.”
If a bird survives these obstacles, Russell said they still confront another danger after learning to fly in mid-November to December.
“They’re attracted to artificial light,” he said. “They use their instincts, using the moon’s light for navigation. Young birds can get confused, seeing the lights that aren’t from the moon. Artificial lights have only been around for the last hundred years while these birds have used their navigation instincts
People can help ensure the shearwater’s survival by reporting any fallen birds to the Provost Marshal’s Office. During working hours, PMO will pick up the bird for medical attention. If a downed bird is found after hours, Russell suggests leaving the bird if it is in a safe location. If not, then the animal should be corralled into a cardboard box for authorities to pick up later.
Although Russell said it can be harsh for infant birds to survive, those that do can live for decades. Researchers discovered one bird that survived long enough to turn 27 years old.
“It can be sink or swim,” Russell said. “But there are ways we help them out.”
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This work, K-Bay protects local shearwater birds, by Christine Cabalo, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.