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Although currently critically endangered, Puaiohis have the potential to become one of the true conservation success stories of the Hawaiian Islands. Found only on the island of Kaua'i, these small, drab thrushes have an extended breeding season in their stronghold of the Alaka'i Swamp, renesting quickly after both successful and failed nesting attempts. This high reproductive potential has allowed conservationists to establish a captive population of these birds, and then reintroduce them into suitable unoccupied habitat in the wild. In 1999, a pair of released birds successfully hatched two chicks, marking a significant milestone in Hawaiian conservation efforts, and raising hopes that Puaiohis will be able to significantly increase their numbers and increase their range.
Puaiohis are drab, medium-sized thrushes with long, slender, black bills, and pink legs and feet. Adult birds are olive-brown above, and light gray below. A white eye-ring and white outer tail feathers are two diagnostic characters for identifying this species. As in other thrush species, juvenile Puaiohis have heavy markings on their breasts; heavy brown scalloping contrasts with whitish breasts, and Puaiohis also show buffy spotting on their olive-brown backs. Puaiohis occur only on the island of Kaua'i, an island they share with another species of thrush, the Kama'o. This latter species, unfortunately, has not been seen since 1992. Puaiohis can be distinguished from Kama'os by Puaiohis' smaller size, pink legs, longer, more slender bill, and white eye-ring.
Puaiohis are found only on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i, where the species is currently confined to the southern and central plateau of Alaka'i Swamp above 1,050 meters of elevation. Puaiohis' entire range, which includes stream valleys and associated ridges in the Alaka'i area, is now less than 20 square kilometers in area.
Puaiohis' rarity and secretive nature make them difficult to detect with traditional survey techniques. On the basis of recent data, the current population is conservatively estimated at more than 200 individuals. This estimate is similar to the one provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after collecting data from 1968 to 1973. The population of Puaiohis has probably fluctuated during the past 30 years, especially in the aftermath of major hurricanes in 1982 and 1992.
Puaiohis are now found only in wet montane forest between 1,050 and 1,300 meters in the stream valleys and associated ridges of Alaka'i Swamp. This species prefers areas with steep-walled ravines, and a vegetational community that includes 'ohi'a, 'ohi'a ha, and 'olapa. So inaccessible and remote are Puaiohis' habitats that it wasn't until 1981 that the first nest was discovered. Females build nests at sites located in cavities or shelves on streamside cliff faces, often concealed within clumps of ferns. A clutch of two eggs is incubated for about two weeks. The female is the primary provider of food for nestlings, while the male assumes feeding responsibilities once the young have left the nest. In 8% of nesting efforts that have been studied, the breeding pair received some form of helping behavior--either assistance in nest defense or feeding of nestlings and fledglings--from birds of unknown relationship. Puaiohis have an extended breeding season from March to October, and will renest quickly after both successful and failed nesting attempts.
Puaiohis are primarily fruit-eating birds, with the most frequently-consumed fruits being 'olapa, lapalapa, and 'ohi'a ha. During the non-breeding season, 82% of foraging attempts were on fruits, with the remainder being on invertebrates, while during breeding season, the percentage of foraging attempts devoted to invertebrates was 57%. Invertebrate food items include dragonflies, beetles, spiders, and caterpillars.
With a population that is now estimated at approximately 200 individuals, Puaiohis could be driven to extinction by a single catastrophe, such as the major hurricanes that severely impacted Kaua'i's birdlife in 1982 and 1992. Alteration of habitats by humans has had an impact on this species, leading to a contraction in range to the inaccessible core of the Alaka'i Swamp region. Introduction of alien plants that have taken over formerly occupied habitats could be another factor. As with other Hawaiian endemics, avian malaria and poxvirus, plus introduced birds and mammals (especially rats) have also been significant problems.
Puaiohis were listed as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March 1967. The Alaka'i Wilderness Preserve, which contains the core of the species' range, was established in 1964. In 1995, a breeding population of Puaiohis was discovered, spurring a research and management program for this species. Management efforts since 1995 have focused on two strategies: protecting nests and fledglings from rats by using rat-poison bait stations, and removing first-clutch eggs from nests to create a captive flock (removed clutches are quickly replaced by a new clutch in the wild). In 1999, birds raised in captivity by the Peregrine Fund were released into the Alaka'i Wilderness Preserve, where a pair successfully mated and hatched chicks. This marked the first time that any Hawaiian forest bird raised in captivity successfully hatched chicks in the wild (http://pacificislands.fws.gov/wesa/puaiohi.html). This success should allow for a plan to reestablish Puaiohis in currently unoccupied areas of their former range. Finally, conservation efforts for Puaiohis and other native Hawaiian birds have included statewide education programs explaining the dire situation facing many Hawaiian species; these education efforts are gathering support, and are important for ensuring long-term conservation efforts.
What Can You Do?
Join Hawaii Audubon Society. A chapter of National Audubon, the Hawaii Audubon Society works to protect and educate people about Hawaii's birds. For more information visit http://www.audubon.org/states/hi/
U.S. National Wildlife Refuges provide essential habitat for Puaiohis and a great number of other species throughout the U.S. and its territories. Unfortunately, the refuge system is often under-funded during the U.S. government's budgeting process. To learn more about how you can help gain much needed funding for U.S. National Wildlife Refuges, visit: http://www.audubon.org/campaign/refuge_report/
The Endangered Species Act has helped protect Puaiohis and made it possible to learn critical information about their biology. Audubon continues to work to ensure that this vital legislation is being used to protect our publicly-owned wildlife resources. Check out http://www.audubon.org/campaign/ to learn of the latest news about the Endangered Species Act and how you can help. To learn more about other species protected under this legislation, visit: http://endangered.fws.gov/
The recovery of the native Hawaiian species of endangered birds is a joint project of The Peregrine Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey, Hawai`i's Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate, Kai Malino Ranch, Kealia Ranch, and McCandless Land and Cattle Company. This private/public partnership is dedicated to the restoration of threatened Hawaiian species. To learn more about The Peregrine Fund's Hawai'i Project, visit http://www.peregrinefund.org/notes_hawaii.html
BirdLife International. 2000. Threatened Birds of theWorld. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge, UK:
BirdLife International (2006) Species factsheet: Myadestes palmeri, Puaiohi http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=6351&m=0
Clement, P. 2000. Thrushes. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1992. Birds in Jeopardy. Stanford University, Stanford, CA.
Pratt, H.D., P. L. Bruner, and D. G Berrett. 1987. The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Snetsinger, T. J., K.M. Wakelee, and S.G. Fancy. 1999. Puaiohi (Myadestes palmeri). In The Birds of North America, No. 461 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.