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1954 was the last time endangered ʻuaʻu nested on Mauna Kea — until now

The endangered Hawaiian bird has once again been seen nesting on the mountain.
The endangered Hawaiian bird has once again been seen nesting on the mountain.(University of Hawaii Hilo)
Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 1:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Researchers recently made an astounding discovery on the slopes of Mauna Kea: A nesting site of the endangered ʻuaʻu bird.

The native seabird species, also known as the Hawaiian petrel or Pterodroma sandwichensis, was last recorded nesting on the mountain in 1954. The nesting site was discovered in May of this year to the shock of researchers.

“When we saw them for the first time it was almost a moment of disbelief,” conservationist Bret Nainoa Mossman of UH Hilo said. “We had been looking for them for so long that they were kind of like this ghost that we were just chasing on the mauna.”

Mossman has spent much time with other researchers looking for the birds.

“To actually see them, just like really connected the dots and really cemented how important what we were doing really is because no one else was looking for these birds for quite a long time,” Mossman added.

Audio of ʻuaʻu in areas near the mountain has been recorded since 2018. UH says the the recent discovery is indicative that the species is returning up the mountain as a nesting site.

This latest nest was found on a Department of Hawaiian Homelands protected parcel that borders UH managed lands on Mauna Kea, the university said. Conservationists have since put up traps to catch potential prey of the birds, such as mongoose and cats.

“We found the birds now it’s up to us to make sure that they stay there and they thrive and if we can do that we can restore both their ecological function and their cultural function given enough time,” Mossman said.

ʻUaʻu forage at sea and fly inland after sunset. They nest underground in higher elevations throughout all the islands. They are currently listed as an endangered species under state and federal policies, UH Hilo says.

“If we can identify where the populations are, that’s the first step in being able to preserve them,” researcher Patrick Hart said. “The best way to do that is to remove the threats to them by putting up a predator proof fence that protects them when they nest.”

Researchers have also found promising sings of the ʻAkēʻakē species.

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