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Rare native bird on the brink of extinction discovered on the slopes of Maui

The kiwikiu bird was found alive and well, after being thought dead for 605 days.
The kiwikiu bird was found alive and well, after being thought dead for 605 days.(Department of Land and Natural Resources)
Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 4:12 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 23, 2021 at 4:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After a bird native to Hawaii was thought to be dead for more than a year and a half, its distinct song recently rang through the leeward slopes of Haleakala.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said the discovery of a lone kiwikiu was made Wednesday after it was found chirping in a gulch of koa trees.

“There were a bunch of other birds singing and I thought I heard in the distance among other calls — a kiwikiu song. I didn’t quite believe it, didn’t expect to hear it for sure,” said Zach Pezzillo, a researcher with the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project.

“It’s a very distinct call and song so I immediately knew what it was.”

Upon further inspection, Pezzillo discovered the male kiwikiu was part of a group of seven birds that were translocated to the Nakula Natural Area Reserve in 2019. He confirmed it was one of the birds by a yellow and black band on its left leg.

Researchers had previously moved the birds to newly restored forests in hopes to prevent their extinction.

However, their efforts ended in disaster.

Five of the birds were found dead, succumbing to avian malaria, which is spread by non-native mosquitos. Scientists said the disease has been especially rampant due to climate change bringing warmer weather.

Researchers had lost hope, believing the other two birds were killed by the disease — until the discovery was made 605 days later.

“There wasn’t a lot of reason to hope that he had been able to survive the same disease that had taken the rest of the birds,” said Dr. Hanna Mounce, MFBRP coordinator.

“So the fact that he has and is doing so well and has been up there evading detection for this long is really unbelievable.”

Having found the kiwikiu alive, researchers plan to analyze how the bird survived. They said depending on the new information they gather, it may change their plans on how to save the species.

Kiwikiu are the rarest forest bird on Maui with a population that may number fewer than 150.

Scientists said they are still holding out hope that they will be able to find the other translocated kiwikiu, which is still unaccounted for.

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