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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, November 6, 2004

Laysan ducks go to Midway

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

The Laysan duck once was found on many Hawaiian islands, but for nearly a century, it has existed on only one small, sandy island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The recent move of 20 of the endangered birds from Laysan Island to newly created habitat on Midway Atoll establishes a safety net for the species in case a catastrophe wipes out Laysan's population. A new draft recovery plan for the duck says it is a critical step in saving the bird.

"The recent translocation of birds from Laysan to Midway is a landmark event for recovery of the species. The establishment of additional wild populations is essential to the ducks' survival and serves as an insurance policy against extinction," said Gina Shultz, acting field supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Islands Office.

Laysan ducks sometimes are called Laysan teals. They are about 16 inches long and brown, although their wing feathers have areas of blue, green or purple. The birds have a white ring around their eyes and orange feet. They can fly, but on Laysan, they mostly stay on the ground.

Laysan has a large super-salty lake in its middle, and adult birds can survive on salt water. Chicks, however, depend on fresh water from a few seeps, some of which dry up in arid years.

The bird once was found on Hawai'i, Maui, Moloka'i, O'ahu and Kaua'i, according to fossil records, and until the early 20th century existed from Laysan and Lisianski islands in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. But the ducks were wiped out at Lisianski, and their population dropped to 11 birds on Laysan in 1911 after rabbits destroyed most of the vegetation.

Laysan has slowly recovered and the duck population is estimated at roughly 500 birds.

The Fish and Wildlife Services' draft recovery plan is available for public comment through Jan. 3. Copies are available through the service Web site at pacific.fws.gov/press or by calling 792-9400.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.