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Annual palila survey on Mauna Kea underway


A team of state, federal and private agency biologists and volunteers has begun the week-long 28th annual survey of Palila, Loxioides bailleui, an endangered Hawaiian forest bird, at Mauka Kea.

The survey team will consist of 22 individuals representing the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Hawaii at Hilo, the U.S. Army – Pohakuloa Training Area, and San Diego Zoo. 

Most of the small remaining population of Palila occupy the area to be surveyed and this count, which runs through Friday, Feb. 6 will generate a population estimate. Its population has declined by approximately 50 percent since 2005.

The partners and volunteers assisting with the survey start their days at 4 a.m. to arrive at 13 transects before dawn. As the sun rises, bird activity in the forest begins.

At predetermined points along established transects, surveyors will listen for bird song and scan the treetops for Palila. In addition to recording the number of birds detected, observers will estimate the distance of each bird. This distance information is needed to generate population estimates. 

Surveys are expected to end by 11 a.m. when the majority of the Palila activity in the forest has ceased and crews hike out to a rendezvous location to plan for the following day.

“Without the assistance and experience of cooperating agencies and individuals, these annual surveys would take a month instead of a week. Our ability to do landscape scale bird surveys would be greatly limited without the contributions of our partners,” said David Leonard, Division of Forestry and Wildlife forest bird biologist.

Count data collected during the surveys is run through a computer model that takes environmental and surveyor variables into account and produces an estimate for the population. Longterm population estimates are important because population trends can be examined in light of climatic variables (i.e., drought) and management activities.

Palila are being impacted by a variety of threats, which include habitat degradation, predation by non-native species, competition with non-native species, fire and climate change.

“The decline of the Palila is not solely representative of the decline of a rare Hawaiian species, but also the degradation of Hawaii’s native ecosystems,” said Laura H. Thielen, DLNR chairwoman.

“DLNR will continue to work with partners to manage Hawaiian wild lands in order to protect ecosystems for future generations,” she said.

Palila recovery is supported by funds from the U.S. Department of Interior and the state. Recovery efforts include the rearing and release of captive bred Palila, removal of non-native predators, fire prevention, and fencing to reduce the threat of browsing by ungulates such as feral goats and sheep. These efforts will also benefit all the native birds and plants found on Mauna Kea.

— Find out more:

Department of Land and Natural Resources:…

Department of Forestry and Wildlife:…

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