Recovery Starts for Most Endangered U.S. Waterbird

MIDWAY ATOLL, Near Hawaii, January 3, 2007 (ENS) – The rarest native waterfowl in the United States, a species of duck called the Laysan teal, has increased its numbers five-fold over the past year at a rat-free refuge that was once part of its historic range.

Biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say the total tally of adult and fledgling Laysan ducks on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge rose from 42 to about 200 birds over the past three years.

This is only the third year since the 42 teal were trapped in the wild and transported by ship from their only remaining population on Laysan Island to re-establish a second population on Midway Atoll.

“These rare, wild ducks could not co-exist with rats, migrate, or disperse away from Laysan Island, so a few birds were translocated by ship to restore the species to a larger range,” explained USGS wildlife researcher Michelle Reynolds, who coordinated the project.

“Now Laysan ducks are found on three rat-free islands for the first time in hundreds of years and are flying between islands at Midway Atoll,” she said.

Laysan ducklings hatched this year
are the basis of recovery for
their species. (Photo courtesy

The endangered Laysan duck, Anas laysanesis, occurs only within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands’ Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument established June 15, 2006.

Laysan ducks were once widespread across the Hawaiian Islands, but, by 1860, they ceased to exist anywhere except Laysan Island.

Laysan Island, also protected as part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, lies only 40 feet above sea level and is inhabited by millions of seabirds. The remote island is a five-day boat ride from Honolulu.

The re-establishment of a second or “experimental” population at Midway Atoll reduces the risk of extinction from a catastrophe such as a hurricane, tsunami, avian flu, or the accidental introduction of harmful invasive plants and animal species striking Laysan Island.

Discussions are underway about the establishment of a third population relocated to another predator-free island.

Survival and breeding of the ducks was closely tracked. Each “founder bird” transported from Laysan carried a small transmitter so that it could be located despite dense vegetation.

The post translocation monitoring revealed that the Laysan duck is capable of using novel habitats and flight between the small islands that comprise Midway Atoll. The endangered ducks on Midway Atoll used a wide variety of vegetation types for nesting and foraging that are not available on Laysan.

“It will soon be possible for visitors to Midway Atoll to view Laysan teal in the wild,” said Barry Christenson, Midway Atoll refuge manager and a member of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A visitor services program will begin at Midway Atoll later this year.

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