Maui Coastal Land Trust officials were frustrated and saddened when they found three adult wedge-tailed shearwaters killed at the trust's Waihee Refuge two weeks ago.
Scott Fisher, the trust's project manager, said he suspected dogs were the culprits, as the dead birds were found chomped and tossed around with slobber still covering them when staff checked on the indigenous seabirds at Waihee Point on Aug. 21.
"We just missed them," Fisher said of the dogs. "It's a real tragedy."
This is one of the adult wedge-tailed shearwaters found dead at Maui Coastal Land Trust’s Waihee Refuge on Aug. 21.
Maui Coastal Land Trust / JAMES CROWE photo
Fisher said it takes five years for the wedge-tailed shearwaters, or uau kani, to become sexually mature. With three birds killed, "you are set back five years."
He added the birds were also nesting and said it is likely that the birds' fledglings will now die without their parents to feed them.
Even if the refuge staff could locate the burrows, orphaned uau kani chicks do not adapt to being fed by hand.
In light of the recent incident, Fisher wants to remind people not to let their dogs loose near or at the Waihee Refuge, which is between Waihee Park and Waihee Point. The 250-acre Waihee Coastal Dunes and wetlands refuge conserves and protects the wetland, dune ecosystem, marine shoreline and other habitats for native birds and vegetation.
Colonies of the uau kani on Maui's north shore have been decimated by feral cats and dogs in recent years, as the dusky brown birds with white breast feathers are at a disadvantage on land. They have thin legs with webbed feet, designed to let them slide through the ocean when they dive after prey. On land, they crawl rather than walk.
Fisher said dogs are a constant problem at the refuge and every year there have been uau kani deaths.
He and his staff have repeatedly told dog owners to keep their dogs on a leash, only to find the owners letting their dogs go when staff members leave the area.
Everyone has a "kuleana" - a responsibility - to care for the land and the native species of the land, he said. People should be responsible with their dogs.
He presumes the dogs are pets rather then strays as the birds are not being killed for food. They are not eaten, but are mauled and fatally injured.
Uau kani are found across the Central Pacific as well as in Hawaii, but in Hawaii their populations have been forced to the offshore islands by predation and loss of their nesting grounds to development. They nest in shallow burrows that they build in coastal dunes, where they and their chicks are vulnerable to cats, dogs, mongooses and rats.
The birds have 3-foot wingspans and are designed for months of gliding over the ocean where they feed on baitfish and squid driven to the surface by ahi or other large fish. It is believed the birds return to their birthplace to breed.
The species nests from February to November, and breeding pairs lay a single white egg in a burrow on the ground or in natural crevices. The pair take turns for the two-month incubation period and in feeding the chick until it fledges and can leave the burrow - generally around October.
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