New Birds in Town?
by Keene Rees
Have you noticed anything new on recent trips by Makapu'u Point? You may have seen what look like white specks on Kaohikaipu (Black Rock), the small island next to Manana (Rabbit Island). Those specks are actually decoys put on the island in hopes of luring Laysan albatrosses to the island and establishing a nesting colony there.
Albatrosses, or "gooney" birds as they are affectionately called, are Hawaii's largest seabirds with wingspans of six to seven feet that permit effortless, gliding flight over the open ocean. They spend most of the time at sea, coming ashore to mate, nest, and rear their young for about five months. During breeding, elaborate courtship dances are carried out with a lifetime mate. An estimated 2.5 million Laysan albatross (moli) currently nest in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and on Kauai. The number of albatross around the main Hawaiian islands has been steadily increasing for several years. Individual albatross returning to the main islands have encountered many problems. Predation by mongooses, cats and dogs, and the purposeful and accidental harassment of birds by humans have prevented the successful reestablishment of a nesting colony.
Some albatross have attempted to nest at Ka'ena Point where adequate protection from predators cannot be provided. There have also been attempts to nest at several airfields around the state, but potential accidents between these large soaring seabirds and aircraft are a possibility. Presently albatross are being discouraged from nesting at these sites.
The Kaohikaipu Albatross Project, now in its third year, is a joint venture of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Audubon Society, and Sea Life Park. The goal is to provide birds returning to Oahu with a safe nesting site. In order to attract birds to Kaohikaipu, about 50 lifesize decoys, both adults and chicks, have been strategically placed on the island. In addition, two speakers play recordings of actual birds. This technique, known as "social attraction" has been successfully used with other sea birds. For a 5-month period, from December to April, the island is regularly monitored by a dedicated group of volunteers from the Hawaii Audubon Society. From a vantage point at Sea Life Park they are observing a small, but steady, number of wild birds that appear to be interested in the decoys. In the first two weeks of February, eight albatross were sighted on or above the island, and sightings are expected to increase up until April. Hopefully, someday soon Laysan Albatrosses will adopt Kaohikaipu as a nesting site, and they will be a common sight soaring above Waimanalo. But if you can't wait till then to see them, you can always visit the Sea Bird Sanctuary at Sea Life Park, where two adults reside.