A new survey by the United States Geological Survey shows the population of the Palila (Loxioides bailleui), a beautiful songbird found only in Hawaii, has fallen from 4,400 birds to 1,200 birds since 2003, a decline of nearly 75 percent. The bird is being driven toward extinction by introduced sheep and goats, which are destroying the Palila’s key food source, and feral cats, which are killing off adult birds and hatchlings, according to the American Bird Conservancy.
“These latest figures tell us that it is imperative that we act quickly to protect this bird now. We know what needs to be done to protect this species, and every day that goes by without those actions being implemented brings it one step closer to extinction,” said George Wallace, Vice President for Oceans and Islands of American Bird Conservancy (ABC), in a statement.
The group says that degradation of native māmane and naio forests, which provide the Palila with sustenance, has emerged as a chief threat to the species.
“The native māmane and naio forests upon which the Palila depends have also been degraded by introduced ungulates, especially mouflon, mouflon-sheep hybrids, and goats,” ABC said in a statement. “Green seeds from the māmane tree make up most of the Palila’s diet, but māmane flowers, buds, and leaves, and naio berries are also consumed, especially when māmane seeds are scarce. Green māmane seeds also support caterpillars that are fed to Palila nestlings. Thus annual Palila reproduction is tied to māmane seed pod availability and the overall quality of the māmane forest.”
ABC said Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) is now building a fence to encircle the bulk of the “critical habitat” designated for the Palila on Mauna Kea. The action, conducted under the Endangered Species Act, will be followed by an exotic ungulate eradication program. The efforts are funded by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This is a fantastic contribution to a vital conservation effort,” said Paul Conry, DOFAW Administrator. “The new funding support will allow us to construct nearly half of the fence. Completion of the fence and true protection of Palila critical habitat is in sight.”
ABC says the funding is partly the result of the championing of a report, The State of the Birds – United States of America 2009, by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI). The report highlighted “the plight of Hawaiian birds and the urgency for immediate action to protect them from extinction.”