Darkness In Sky, Lights On Ground Harming Endangered Hawaiian Bird
HONOLULU (AP) _ Cloudy skies, moonless nights and the bright lights of civilization are a confusing and often fatal combination for one of Hawaii’s endangered native bird species.
Young ua’u, or dark-rumped petrels, leave their burrows near the summit of the dormant volcano Haleakala on Maui for the first time during the fall and fly to the sea, which is their habitat except in nesting season.
The ua’u, which orient themselves by the moon and stars, spend so much time at sea that their legs are used strictly for paddling and cannot support their 16-inch bodies on land, biologists said.
When there is no moon and the stars are hidden by clouds, however, the fledglings can be confused by street and house lights in towns at the foot of the volcano, often land on the ground and are unable to take off again.
During the last two weeks, officials have collected nine of the ua’u found helpless on the ground, said Fern Duvall who is in charge of the state’s endangered bird center on Maui.
The center has had one report of a bird killed by a dog, and some of the ua’u turned in to biologists have not survived, she said.
Scientists estimate that only about 1,000 ua’u are still alive.
In previous years, only a few fledglings became grounded, apparently because of good weather.
The ua’u was hunted by the ancient Hawaiians, but its population was reduced primarily because of predation by rats, cats, dogs and mongooses - animals introduced to the islands by man.