A colorful tropical bird called the Tuamotu Kingfisher lives on just one very small island in the South Pacific, and is down to less than 125 individuals. They live on the island of Niau in French Polynesia, which is several hundred miles from Tahiti. In 1974 there may have been as many as 600 of them, but their numbers have dropped since then. They are threatened by rats, feral cats and storms which remove trees where they nest. They eat insects and lizards, and nest in dead coconut trees.
In 2002 the human population of Niau was 136. An education program has been implemented to make coconut farmers aware of the dire situation facing the kingfishers, so their nests are not as vulnerable to disturbances from humans. Various measures are being taken on Niau to help the critically endangered birds survive. A University of Missouri researcher, Dylan Kesler said “Unfortunately, even with all our work to date, the population is still crashing. We’re seeing some turnover, but each year when we return, there are more empty territories and the population decreases. At this rate, these birds will be gone within our lifetime.” (Source: Sciencedaily.com)
Another conservation measure may be required – that of translocation – or moving a smaller portion of the whole population to a nearby island with a habitat most similar to the one on Niau. The islands of Anaa and Makatea are under consideration. This strategy is also challenging as capturing the small, fragile birds could harm them physically or cause high stress. Also, there is no guarantee they will stay in a new location or adapt to it readily. A last resort may be a captive breeding program, but of course that also means running the risk of harm when capturing takes place. If you want to do something to help this bird, you can join BirdLife’s program for preventing bird extinctions.
Image Credits: Dylan Kesler, University of Missouri