In February 2007, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) declared that the forests of the Hawaiian Islands are the most threatened bird habitat in the United States. ABC stated that only a few native birds such as the ‘Apapane and ‘Amakihi are numerous while “most are dependent on vigilant conservation measures to survive at all.”
In March 2006, the Audubon Society reported: “Island birds of are among the most endangered birds in not only the United States but also the world.” In the Society’s list of the ten most endangered birds in the 50 states, seven were from Hawaii.
“Each of these species,” said the Aububon Society, “is under stress from nonnative species, including nest predators, grazing mammals that destroy vegetation and nesting areas, plants that are out-competing native species critical to specific habitats, and insects that spread avian diseases.”
A natural laboratory
An astonishing diversity of plants and animals have evolved in the Hawaiian islands, from a relatively small number of colonist species. For example, more than 50 species of Hawaiian honeycreepers evolved from only one common ancestor. These remote islands provide home to more than 10,000 native species, over 90% found nowhere else on earth. As such, the natural areas of provide a superb laboratory for the study of evolution.
A challenge to survive
Regrettably, many of the characteristics of these species that make them unique, also make them vulnerable when their environment changes. Most of the native forests and natural wetlands that predated the arrival of man to Hawaii have been converted for agriculture and other human uses. Additionally, a diverse array of non-native plants, insects, grazing animals and mammalian predators have been introduced to these islands.
Extinction is forever
More than half of the native bird and plant species known to science in these islands are now extinct, never to return. Yet, this is not yesterday’s problem. Ten birds went extinct in the last 30 years. Of the 70+ bird species that remain, 30 are on the Federal list of threatened and endangered species.
Turning the corner
Arresting the decline of Hawaii’s native birds will require a coordinated effort to stop the invasion and spread of non-native species to protect what remains of the habitat that supports these species. Yet, when the population of rare species is threatened, every bird counts. The Hawai‘i Wildlife Center plays a critically important recovery and rehabilitation role for all of Hawaii’s native bird species and aims to contribute to the recovery of populations of native wildlife.