Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 17, 2004

No sign of last known pair of po'ouli

Associated Press

OLINDA, Maui — Bad weather on Maui has prevented wildlife experts from spotting what they believe are the last two po'ouli birds on earth.

The quest to save the rare birds took on new urgency last month with the death of a male bird captured for breeding.

There are believed to be two remaining birds in the wild, but 10 straight days of rain in the Hanawi Natural Area Reserve have hindered scientists' efforts to locate them.

"It was horrific weather, winter weather," said Kirsty Swinnerton, project coordinator of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project. "It didn't stop raining the whole time, day or night. Even the common birds were hunkered down under the bushes."

The aging male bird's death at the Maui Bird Conservation Center on Nov. 26 came just days before Swinnerton and five others headed up the eastern slopes of Haleakala to try to catch a mate for the bird.

"Obviously, we're all very sad," said Swinnerton. "We're also sad because it makes a big impact on the whole recovery program."

The po'ouli is part of the Hawaiian honeycreeper family and is unique — it has its own genus. It was not discovered until 1973, when a group of University of Hawai'i students conducting research on the east slope of Haleakala volcano sighted a bird they had never seen before.

It is the only Hawaiian forest bird to rely heavily on native tree snails as its food.

Since 1997, only three po'ouli have been known to exist, in separate territories in the East Maui forest reserve.

In early 2002, a female was captured and released near a male, but she flew back to her home.

Members of the team will meet early next year to reassess the situation, Swinnerton said.