Wednesday | August 24, 2016
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Leighton discusses efforts of Keauhou Bird Conservation Center

Bird enthusiasts filled the basement of the Lyman Museum on Monday evening while Rosanna Leighton, research coordinator for the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, talked about the center’s efforts to save multiple endangered bird species on the Big Island.

Throughout the presentation, Leighton discussed the program’s mission and how the center goes about aiding the recovery of Hawaiian ecosystems by preventing the extinction of Hawaii’s most threatened native birds.

The birds mentioned included the palila, a finch-billed Hawaiian honeycreeper; kiwikiu; Maui parrotbill; and the alala, Hawaiian crow.

Much of the discussion focused on the alala.

With only 109 living in captivity, researchers at KBCC and elsewhere have been hard at work to revitalize the endemic Hawaii Island bird population. The last reported sighting of an alala was in 2002, and they are currently thought to be extinct in the wild.

“If you think you may have seen one, take a picture and send it to me. You’ll be the most popular person in the world,” she said to the audience.

From 1993-98, the program and its partners had 27 alala living in captivity that were released into the wild and six surviving birds were brought back. In 2010, the group of researchers and interns successfully bred 13 of the Hawaiian crows in captivity, with 11 surviving. In 2011, 20 were bred in captivity, 19 survived, and in 2012, the center bred 17 with 15 surviving. Last year, six out of the nine birds in captivity survived.

There are currently 65 alala alive at the KBCC, 43 live at the Maui Bird Conservation Center and one resides at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Leighton informed the audience the program focuses on raising the birds in a captive setting in order for them to be “less stressed” during their development.

The developmental process is tedious, and Leighton said they are required to follow very specific parameters in order for the embryos to develop successfully.

With eight full-time members and at least three interns throughout the year, the KBCC crew has a lot to do, especially when it comes to hatching the birds, which can take up to 32 hours at a time and requires them to feed the birds every hour for up to 15 hours a day.

Leighton, who works with various conservation groups locally and nationally, emphasized the importance of supporting groups that work to maintain the birds’ environments.

“We are trying to raise these birds and put them out there but we need the forest out there to support them,” she said. “Conservation biology and ecosystem conservation go hand and hand.”

Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project is working on restoring the mamane forest, which palila are highly dependent upon.

The presentation was part of the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program efforts. The HEBCP works with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the State of Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and in collaboration with other government agencies, Kamehameha Schools and private landowners.

Email Megan Moseley at


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