LIHU‘E – Seven fledgling ‘A‘o (Newell’s Shearwaters) were released by school children from two Kauai schools this week as part of the annual E Ho‘opomaika‘i ‘ia na Manu ‘A‘o (A Cultural Release of the Native Newell’s Shearwater) event. This is the eighth year the Kaua‘i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project (KESRP) and the Save Our Shearwaters (SOS) project teamed up to give local keiki the chance to be a part of the release of rehabilitated ‘A’o fledglings. Fourth-grade students from Wilcox Elementary School and Island School participated in the blessing and releases.
The birds are all young birds rescued by concerned people on Kaua‘i after being grounded by artificial lights. Each bird was offered a pule (Hawaiian prayer) by Kupuna Sabra Kauka before flying out to sea in front of the excited school children.
“This event is an important part of our work every year,” said Mike McFarlin, a KESRP staff member who helped organize the event. “It gives the school children the opportunity to be a part of something very special – the release of an endangered seabird. Seeing these rare birds up close and personal, and then watching them fly safely out to sea, creates a lasting impression on everyone who takes part!”
The ‘A‘o is a threatened seabird found only on the Hawaiian Islands. Kaua‘i is the last main refuge of the species with an estimated 90% of the World population found on the island. Unfortunately the populations of this montane-nesting shearwater have declined dramatically in recent years. The decline is attributed to a number of issues including predation by introduced predators (such as feral cats, rats and pigs), collisions with man-made structures and fall-out of fledglings due to artificial lights.
Dr. Andre Raine, KESRP Coordinator elaborated on the problems newly fledged birds face, “As birds leave their burrows in the mountains for the first time and head out to sea they can become attracted to bright lights – particularly on dark nights. This can cause them to crash to the ground where they then get run over by cars or eaten by cats and dogs if they are not rescued. At this time of year, we ask everyone to keep an eye out for fallen birds and to place them in one of the aid stations located at Kaua‘i County fire stations or hand them over to the SOS if they are found.”
KESRP is a State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife project, administered by the Pacific Co-operative Studies Unit of the University of Hawai‘i. SOS is a DLNR project housed at the Kaua‘i Humane Society and financially supported by the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative. School transportation for the blessing event was funded by the Kilauea Point Natural History Association.
Additional information: Anybody finding a downed ‘A‘o should take the bird to the nearest aid station (found at all fire stations around the island) and leave detailed information on where and when it was found. You can call the SOS hotline at (808) 635-5117 for more information or to let SOS know that you have dropped off a bird. SOS aid stations are checked every morning for seabirds, which are then taken to SOS headquarters in the Kaua‘i Humane Society for rehabilitation and release.