It's turning into another busy season for wildlife officials saving stranded seabirds.
The young birds, including ua'u, or Hawaiian petrels, and ua'u kani, or wedge-tailed shearwaters, leave their home burrows and make their first flights out to sea during the fall months. State officials are asking people to reduce outdoor lighting to protect the fledglings and to report any downed birds they find.
"It's been busy, and it will go on pretty much until mid-December," said state wildlife biologist Fern Duvall.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
This young wedge-tailed sheerwater, or ua‘u kani, was found floating in the ocean off Kamaole III Beach Park
The Department of Land and Natural Resources office on Maui received at least 19 petrels earlier in the season, and so far has received 25 wedge-tailed shearwaters, whose fledging season is still under way. Those numbers are "fairly normal" compared with previous years, he said.
Because the birds use the moon and stars to guide them out to sea, they can be disoriented by bright man-made lights. Many young birds crash into buildings streetlights or other bright objects and end up grounded, where they are hit by cars or killed by cats and mongoose, according to a DLNR news release.
Several of the birds recovered by the Maui office were already dead or had to be euthanized because they were injured or too weak to survive, Duvall said.
WHAT TO DO/NOT TO DO
If you encounter a fallen or injured seabird:
* Do calmly pick up the bird using a towel or T-shirt and carry it at waist level, away from your face.
* Do gently place the bird in a cardboard box with ventilation holes and a lid and keep the box in a cool, safe, quiet place.
* Do call the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Maui office at 984-8100.
* Don't try to feed, treat or release the bird.
* Don't disturb healthy chicks resting or stretching outside their burrows.
State wildlife officials are asking residents and businesses to help the birds by keeping outdoor lighting to a minimum and aiming it toward the ground. People can also replace bare spotlights and floodlights with shielded fixtures and more wildlife-friendly nonwhite bulbs. Other steps people can take include setting security lights on motion detectors; installing commercial or man-made shields on outdoor lights to reduce glare, and closing curtains and blinds at night.
Man-made lights can have a greater impact on the birds on nights with a dark moon and stormy and voggy conditions, Duvall said.
"Responsible lighting practices play a critical role in protecting Hawaii's seabirds," said Jessica Reed, environmental specialist at Maui Electric Co. "Maui Electric continues to work toward mitigating impacts on seabirds through the Maui County Street Light Installation Program where seabird-friendly lighting shields are installed on existing county roadway lights."
Maui Electric has met with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Forestry & Wildlife to discuss seabird impacts and what could be done to make the birds more safe around electrical facilities.
In addition to dimming their lights, people can help Hawaiian seabirds by carefully putting grounded or injured birds into a ventilated box and immediately calling state officials to pick them up.
However, people should not approach and should leave in place shearwater chicks that are found outside their burrows in coastal areas, unless they are in imminent danger. It is normal for the chicks to sit outside their burrows to exercise their wings and "imprint" the area where they were hatched before venturing out to sea for their first flight, officials said.
While both petrels and wedge-tailed shearwaters are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits civilians from approaching or handling the birds, picking them up to get them out of harm's way is allowed, said Jay Penniman, Maui District endangered species research specialist with the University of Hawaii.
People who find a grounded bird should secure the animal and not try to care for it themselves, but should call authorities immediately, he said.
"It's so important for people to call," he said. "The biggest threat to these birds is when they're disoriented and on the ground, feral cats and mongoose predate them."
Penniman's work includes caring for and rehabilitating some of the recovered birds.
He said he keeps the birds in boxes on his lanai at home and feeds them thawed smelt until they are ready to be released into the wild. The animals are used to living in their burrows, so they are comfortable in the boxes, and Penniman lets them out regularly to stretch and exercise their wings - an important part of their preparation for first flight.
When the birds are strong enough, he releases them near the ocean.
"For the most part, it's just light distraction that brought them in, so there's little rehabilitation needed," he said. "Once they're away from the light and they calm down, when they're near the water, they just go."
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.