Thursday, April 17, 2008

When biology meets geology: Birds vs the volcano

The folks facing the daunting task of saving Hawai'i's endangered forest birds are also handling the daunting challenge of doing it on an erupting volcano.

(Photo: A Hawai'i island palila, Loxioides bailleui. Jack Jeffrey photo via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

The Keauhou Bird Conservation Center sits perched in the forest atop the volcano KÄ«lauea, which has been erupting at two locations in recent weeks: the rift eruption that is creating flows to the sea and a summit event that is spewing gas and clouds of dust from the Halema'uma'u firepit.

The birders continue to raise colorful Hawaiian forest birds amid quaking and toxic air.

The 11 staff members working at the Center are keeping close watch on the threats caused by the volcano but are still doing their work.” said Alan Lieberman, conservation program manager for the program, which is operated by the San Diego Zoo.

“What to do if the threat becomes imminent? The staffers are preparing to move their birds, but hoping they'll be able to avoid it—because these birds don't respond well to stress.

“We have crates stacked up ready to fill with these birds if it becomes apparent we need to leave. These are very delicate species, however, and any kind of move could potentially cause enough stress to cause them serious medical problems. Until there is an imminent threat we will continue to care for these birds at the Center,” Lieberman said.

The six forest birds being raised at the center are part of a program aimed at learning how to breed these animals in captivity, so the captive birds can be released back into the wild to supplement endangered wild stocks.

Scientists from the center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Hawai'i state Division of Forestry and Wildlife have been actively releasing one species, the puaiohi or small Kaua'i thrush, Myadestes palmeri, into the wild in the upland forests of Kaua'i. For more on that program, see

The Center also works with the yellow palila of the Big Island. For more see

For more information on the San Diego Zoological Society and its programs, see and

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate