One to Watch - Iiwi on the decline?
By Alex Dale
First published in BirdLife: The Magazine <http://www.birdlife.org/birdlife-magazine>, the "One to Watch" series takes a quick look at the status of some of the iconic species we're working on.
With its unmistakable fiery red plumage, which was used to decorate the robes worn by Hawaiian royalty in ancient times, the Iiwi Depranis coccinea <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/iiwi-drepanis-coccinea> (pronounced ee-EE-vee), or Scarlet Honeycreeper, is tightly entwined with Hawaiian folklore.
Endemic to the islands, it was once abundant in forests through-out the archipelago, but the accidental introduction of mosquitoes by settlers in the 19 Century brought with it diseases such as avian malaria, to which the Iiwi has no natural immunity.
The Iiwi now finds itself largely restricted to high-elevation forests on the islands of Hawaii, Maui and Kauai, where temperatures are too low for regular disease transmission.
While a few populations remain stable, the species was uplisted to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List in 2008, amidst fears that rising temperatures could increase the elevation at which regular transmission of malaria occurs, threatening current strongholds of this regal nectarivore.
The tiny transmitters tracking birds from North to South America
By Ed Parnell
The Motus Wildlife Tracking System <http://www.birdscanada.org/motus> is a pioneering programme of Bird Studies Canada (BSC, BirdLife Partner), in partnership with collaborating researchers and organisations. Motus (which means “movement” in Latin) utilises miniaturised radio transmitters weighing less than 0.3g, which can be unobtrusively fitted onto the backs of birds, including small passerines such as warblers. (Even smaller transmitters have also been developed that can be fitted to insects: for instance, one study already underway is tracking the movements of Monarch butterflies Danaus plexippus).
The transmitters, or tags, emit a short burst or pulse every 5-30 seconds, each with a unique numerical pattern. These pulses are then picked up by automated very high frequency (VHF) receivers, which can automatically detect and record signals from the tags at distances of up to 15 km.
Thousands of tags can be simultaneously deployed and tracked within the system, which, as of today comprises nearly 350 receiving stations. Resembling oversized television aerials, the receivers can be fixed to existing structures such as towers or lighthouses, on trees, or on stand-alone poles that are around 30 feet in height. The receivers can also be located out to sea; some receivers have already been placed on offshore oil and gas platforms in coastal Nova Scotia, Canada.
“What’s new and exciting about Motus is that it harnesses the collective resources and infrastructure of numerous researchers into one massive collaborative effort. Indeed, it is the depth of these collaborations that makes the entire system possible”, explains Stuart Mackenzie, Motus Programme Manager for BSC.
BirdLife volunteers had photographed culprit who shot down protected eagle
A hunter found himself in hot water when he turned up near a police patrol just as a protected eagle was shot down, but BirdLife volunteers who were close by quickly confirmed that he was not the one who pulled the trigger, a court heard this morning.
The court was hearing evidence against Justin Chetcuti, 23, from Mosta, another man who was eventually accused of shooting down the rare booted-eagle last November 2.
A member of the police Administrative Law Enforcement unit testified how he and colleagues had been patrolling the area of Tal-Virtu and Wied tal-Isqof in Rabat, when they observed three eagles flying low.
He then heard shots and soon noticed that one of the birds was gliding down. The protected bird, which had evidently been hit, landed close to the police Land Rover.
A hunter suddenly appeared and approached the police officers. He insisted that he was not the culprit.
Birdlife volunteers, who were keeping watch over the area at the time confirmed that the man who had allegedly shot down the eagle was indeed someone else. They had observed the culprit, a bare-chested man, through a telescope and had even recorded him on camera.
The witness recalled how he had searched for the accused who was soon traced, disarmed and taken in for questioning.
The officer recognized the accused as the man whom he had arrested.
Story from Natural Times Malta Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Lessons from Little Barrier Island
Alanna Matamaru-Smith, from our Cook Islands’ BirdLife Partner Te Ipukarea Society finds out more about seabird conservation during a recent visit to Little Barrier, an island off the northeastern coast of New Zealand's North Island.
Black Petrel chick, Little Barrier Island © Dan Burgin
By Alanna Matamaru-Smith
*A version of this story first appeared in Forest & Bird magazine http://bit.ly/2h3SBAu. You can find out more about Forest & Bird, our New Zealand BirdLife Partner, at www.forestandbird.org.nz
Alanna Matamaru-Smith, from our Cook Islands’ BirdLife Partner Te Ipukarea Society finds out more about seabird conservation during a recent visit to Little Barrier Island, off the northeastern coast of New Zealand's North Island.
I’d never been to an island that was solely dedicated to being a nature reserve, but once I landed on Little Barrier Island, known as Hauturu in Māori language, it didn’t take long to realise I was in a Garden of Eden. Straight away I could see kākā and kākāriki flying overhead, tūī and bellbirds trying to out-sing each other, and kōkako bouncing across the ground nearby.
In the Cook Islands the closest we have to a nature reserve is Suwarrow, our national park, which is is 825km north-west of Rarotonga and home to millions of seabirds, thousands of huge coconut crabs, hundreds of sharks, and rare species of turtles. Suwarrow was predator-free until last year when one of the rangers noticed rats on one of the islets (Motu Tou).
A team is to return there this year to complete a rat eradication programme. Back on Hauturu, my first week involved helping Dan Burgin, of Wildlife Management International, and Leigh Joyce, DOC’s assistant ranger on Hauturu, conduct a population survey on the taiko/Black Petrel Procellaria parkinsoni. <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/22698150>
I got a real hands-on experience holding these big seabirds and carefully learnt how to direct them in and out of their burrows. After handling the bird, with Dan banding it, we checked its nest for eggs or chicks. My second week involved a New Zealand Storm Petrel project with the Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust. <https://www.nzseabirdtrust.com/>
It was interesting to see how these birds were caught through the use of high beam lights, mesmerising the small petrel towards the ground. I was told back at home, old mamas on Mauke, one of our outer Cook Islands, used this technique too, but that was for chickens!
I had the job of placing captured birds into their new artificial burrows. Walking by myself in the dark forest to the burrows some 200m away, I saw what I thought was a kiwi but it turned out to be a kākāpō right there in the middle of the track. We both stood still for a good eight seconds before the kākāpō realised I had spotted it and headed off into the nearby bush.
After that, I had a lot more helpers join me on my walks to the burrows! Having arrived back home, I’m looking forward to utilising my skills learnt on Hauturu. For instance (funding dependent), I hope to work on a new project surveying and monitoring the herald petrel population on Rarotonga.
Little is known about this species, which is a major obstacle to developing a conservation plan and starting predator control work. There has been little recent activity in terms of seabird projects being conducted in the Cook Islands. So, with my new passion and drive for seabird conservation, I hope to jump-start a bit more excitement within this area, especially among our young people.
BIRDLIFE IN THE PACIFIC
Every penguin, ranked: which species are we most at risk of losing?
10 of the world’s 18 species of penguin are threatened with extinction.
Edited version: Species found in Australia and New Zealand
By Alex Dale
Beautiful. Inspiring. Under threat.
The first third of our Protect A Penguin campaign tagline is self-explanatory. Beautiful. Even if you've got a heart as hard as a cement mixer, the sight of an Emperor Penguin chick huddling against the cold, or a flash of the Little Penguin's vibrant blue feathers, is guaranteed to make you melt into a pile of goo.
And as for Inspiring? Well, is there a creature on this planet that better represents survival against all odds than the penguin? Over the course of their existence, these remarkable birds have evolved numerous incredible adaptions that allow them to thrive in some of the world's most challenging marine environments. They can drink seawater, survive in temperatures as low -60°C (-76°F), and they are amazingly agile swimmers. Many can swim faster than we can run.
But they are also Under threat. While the penguins are heavily adapted for their environments, it has taken them millions of years to evolve these features, and human impact is hitting the penguins' environments too hard and too fast for them to cope. This is why over half of the world's penguins are now in real danger of going extinct.
But which ones are we most in danger of losing?
That's where BirdLife comes in. As the official assessors of the status of the world's birds for the IUCN Red List, our science team is tasked with regularly reviewing all available data for every species, and allocating it a threat level accordingly, depending on criteria such as range, numbers and rate of decline. The seven threat levels are (in increasing order of seriousness): LEAST CONCERN, NEAR THREATENED, VULNERABLE, ENDANGERED, CRITICALLY ENDANGERED, EXTINCT IN THE WILD AND EXTINCT.
To find out more about the world's 18 penguins, where they live and which ones are in most peril, read on. And don't forget: you can help by donating to our global Protect A Penguin campaign by clicking on the banner below.
AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND (SIX SPECIES)
Yellow-eyed Penguin Megadyptes antipodes
Threat status: ENDANGERED
How many are left? 3,400
Fun fact: It is also known by its Maori name ‘Hoiho’, which translates as ‘Noise shouter’. If you blunder a little too close to its nest, its tinnitus-inducing trumpet will remind you why.
What threats do they face? On land, invasive species (ferrets, stoats, feral cats) are predators on the South Island. At sea, it is suspected that many are tangled and drowned in fishing nets. Invasive species eradication programmes and vegetation restoration programmes are underway to stem the decline of this highly threatened species.
Snares Penguin Eudyptes robustus
How many are left? 63,000
Fun fact: This species of crested penguin is named after the Snares Islands, a tiny island group 200km south of New Zealand. This is its only breeding area, and because its range is so small, just one incident (such as a storm, or oil spillage) could easily see the threat status of this species rocket to Endangered or Critically Endangered.
What threats do they face? While the Snares Islands are free of invasive predators, they are also the site of a large squid fishery, bringing the species in competition with humans.
Threat status: VULNERABLE
Threat status: NEAR THREATENED
How many are left? 1,700,000
Fun fact: Unique among crested penguins because it has a white face, the Royal Penguin is sometimes considered to be a sub-species of the Macaroni Penguin.
What threats do they face? The Royal Penguin has no land-based predators; it only breeds on the rocky island of Macquarie Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated roughly halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica, and politically considered part of Tasmania, Australia. While it is currently thriving on the island, its limited range means future threats, such as pollution, climate change and overfishing, could escalate quickly.
Royal Penguin Eudyptes schlegeli
Erect-crested Penguin Eudyptes sclateri
Threat status: ENDANGERED
How many are left? 150,000
Fun fact: If you’re an anime fan, you’ll recognise this species from the character Pen Pen from Neon Genesis Evangelion, although given that he has claws on his flippers, it’s not a beacon of scientific accuracy.
What threats do they face? Due to a lack of data it’s hard to say, but research needs to be undertaken to find out and fast, because they are declining rapidly. With their breeding grounds secure, the cause is likely to be found out at sea - possibly ocean warming or competition from fisheries.
Little Penguin Eudyptula minor
Threat status: LEAST CONCERN
How many are left? 469,760
Fun fact: At just 33cm, this strikingly blue bird is the smallest penguin in the world. Curiously, colonies have been established in urban areas of New Zealand, such as the capital city, Wellington.
What threats do they face? The Little Penguin’s unusual taste for urban life means it faces some peculiar threats: for example, penguin crossing signs have been established to save these charming birds from being flattened by cars.
Fiordland Penguin Eudyptes pachyrhynchus
How many are left? 5500-7000
Fun fact: While the Little Penguin can sometimes be found on New Zealanders' doorsteps, you’d have to venture into the remote and rugged rainforests of the South Island to trip over this reclusive species. It is also known locally as the Tawaki, after a Maori god - according to mythology, Tawaki didn’t realise he was a god until he “threw aside his vile garments and clothed himself in lightning”. Take another look at the Fiordland Penguin’s bolt-like crest and perhaps you’ll see the resemblance.
What threats do they face? Introduced terrestrial mammals, including rats and stoats, are a considerable threat as they prey on eggs and chicks. In part because of this, and in part because of marine factos such as bycatch, they have declined by as much as 30% in just ten years.
Threat status: VULNERABLE
Credit: Raptors Botswana
A third of all vultures caught and tested in the Botswana study showed elevated levels of lead in their blood, most likely due to ingesting lead bullet-contaminated flesh. Hunters' bullets shatter inside their prey and can then be absorbed into the blood stream of the vultures when they feed on these animals or their remains. This ingested lead is highly toxic to birds.
"We were all shocked by how widespread lead poisoning was for this population and just how clearly these elevated levels were associated with recreational hunting activity," said Dr Arjun Amar, Associate Professor from the University of Cape Town's FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, who supervised the research.
The study, published this week in the international journal Science of the Total Environment, is based on tests of nearly 600 critically endangered African White-backed Vultures. Higher lead levels were found in the blood of vultures in the hunting season and in hunting areas, suggesting that the source of the lead in their blood stream was lead bullets used for hunting.
"The only logical explanation for the patterns of lead poisoning we observed is if lead bullets were the source of this contamination" said the study's lead author Beckie Garbett, who conducted the research as part of her PhD.
The four-year study was conducted jointly with Raptors Botswana, a conservation NGO. It has prompted a call for a national ban on lead bullets in the hope of minimising negative impacts on vulture populations, which are declining throughout Africa. Previous vulture studies linked declines in several species across the continent to mass poisoning, usually by farmers trying to kill other predators, or poachers deliberately trying to kill vultures for fear they might give away their location.
Researchers believe alternative non-lead ammunition, already adopted in some countries, could provide a helping hand to vultures. "Whilst lead poisoning may not be the main driver for the declines in vultures across Africa, it is something that can be tackled more easily through simple legislation, as compared to stopping the illegal actions of livestock owners or poachers" Amar said.
Lead poisoning was one of the main reasons for the near extinction of the Californian Condor and is known to increase mortality and reduce breeding performance in birds. Thus, shattered fragments of bullets left in the carcasses of big game animals on the African savannahs could also be accelerating the decline of vultures.
The latest research also suggests that the 2014 ban on hunting on government owned land in Botswana has had no effect on the lead levels in vultures. Lead levels in vultures actually increased after the ban, and the researchers believe vultures may have shifted their foraging to private game farms where hunting is still allowed: "Hunting may have become more concentrated after the ban and this might explain the increase in lead levels in vultures following the ban, since the vultures may have tapped more into this food supply. We also need to consider that because vultures range so widely, they are exposed to lead use throughout the region, therefore mitigation of this issue needs to be addressed at a regional level" Garbett said.
The authors of the study have called for greater awareness among policy makers of the threat that lead ammunition may pose to vultures. The Convention for Migratory Species (CMS) has also urged all signature countries to phase out the use of lead ammunition. Whilst Botswana is one of the few countries yet to sign the convention, the authors urge policymakers there to implement this call. "To do so is particularly important for species like vultures that range widely across international borders," the study said.
Materials provided by University of Cape Town. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Rebecca Garbett, Glyn Maude, Pete Hancock, David Kenny, Richard Reading & Arjun Amar. Association between hunting and elevated blood lead levels in the critically endangered African white-backed vulture Gyps africanus. Science of the Total Environment, 2018