Watch: Wildlife camera catches fluffy fledgling endangered nocturnal seabird emerging from burrow on Big Island
A wildlife camera has captured footage of an endangered nocturnal seabird fledgling emerging from its burrow on the slopes of Mauna Loa inside the Big Island’s Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.
The fluffy young ‘ākeʻāke was caught on camera making its way out of its high-elevation burrow about a month before the Mauna Loa eruption and lava flow began, an exciting first for for the national park. The burrow was detected by Slater, a dog with Hawaiʻi Detector Dogs, under the guidance of trainer and handler Michelle Reynolds.
This is the first confirmed ʻākeʻāke nest identified in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, according to biologist Charlotte Forbes Perry with the University of Hawaiʻi Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, who observed the chick inside its burrow after Slater sniffed it out in September — weeks before it emerged.
“Biologists in the park have known of the presence of ʻākeʻāke on Mauna Loa since the 1990s,” Forbes Perry said in a press release. “In 2019, ʻākeʻāke burrow calls were recorded during acoustic monitoring, which indicated nesting. The lack of visual signs like guano at their nest sites make them extremely hard for humans to locate.”
Working with Hawai’i Detector Dogs, Slater located the ʻākeʻāke burrow and three Hawaiian petrel nests within a couple of days.
Forbes Perry and her team study seabirds in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park under a permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, an active partner on the project. After Slater discovered the nests, wildlife cameras were installed to monitor the burrows.
‘Ākeʻāke, also known as the band-rumped storm petrel, Oceanodroma castro, are small — adults weigh about as much as a golf ball — and are ash black with a wide white band on their squarish tail, according to the American Bird Conservancy. They nest on isolated islands but spend the rest of their lives at sea. The global population is estimated to be about 150,000 individuals, with about 240 pairs known in Hawaiʻi.
Threats in Hawaiʻi include predation by non-native barn owls, cats and mongoose, and disorientation from artificial lights. Like ʻuaʻu, or Hawaiian petrels, and other seabirds, ʻākeʻāke fly to their breeding sites in darkness.
Slater and Reynolds were also part of the team that discovered a new ʻākeʻāke burrow at Pōhakuloa Training Area in early September. The two nests are the only documented ʻākeʻāke nests in the state.
The ʻākeʻāke and ʻuaʻu burrows are protected within the park’s 644-acre cat-proof fence and not threatened by the ongoing Mauna Loa eruption. People can help ensure the safety of seabirds by controlling their pets, especially cats, and using dark-sky friendly lighting. Bright urban lights disorient seabirds like ʻākeʻāke and ʻuaʻu.
While many are transfixed by the eruption that began on November 27, Forbes Perry and other conservationists are equally excited by the discovery of the ʻākeāke nest.
“We are ecstatic by these finds, and detector dogs are an invaluable resource to help locate these elusive birds,” she said in the press release.