Maui County residents are being asked to watch out for seabirds that may get disoriented in bright lights at night and collide with wires or structures and fall to the ground, officials said.
Already, this has been a record year for downed Hawaiian petrels, also called 'ua'u, said Jay Penniman, Maui Nui Seabird Recovery project manager.
"This year is already a huge year for 'ua'u fallout," Penniman said. "The last two years we have had no more than 17 downed seabirds. This year we have already rescued 54 young 'ua'u."
Another at-risk species of seabird is the wedge-tailed shearwater, or 'ua'u kani.
October through December is fledgling season, when young birds leave their nests at night in search of ocean feeding grounds, officials said.
Commonly believed to be attracted by the light of the moon and stars, which leads them out over the sea, some seabirds become disoriented by bright, unshielded lights, officials said.
"These grounded seabirds are at risk of being killed by cats, mongooses or dogs, or may be struck by vehicles," said Maui County environmental coordinator Rob Parsons. "There are some simple guidelines set by our wildlife biologists that the public can follow which can help us protect this important native species."
Residents who find grounded or injured seabirds:
* Should calmly pick up the bird using a towel or T-shirt and carry it at waist level, away from a person's face.
* Should gently place the bird in a cardboard box with ventilation holes and a lid and keep the box in a cool, safe, quiet place.
* Should call the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project's Save Our Seabirds Maui at 280-4114. The line takes calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
* Should not try to feed, treat or release the bird.
* Should not disturb healthy chicks resting or stretching outside their burrows.
Penniman said that the record high numbers of downed birds may be a result of the dark phase of the moon, coupled with lack of trade winds and presence of vog and low clouds when the young seabirds began to leave the colony on Haleakala.
Seabirds can be recognized by their webbed feet and hooked beaks. Young birds may have tufts of down feathers remaining on their heads, bellies or backs, officials said.
Hawaiian petrels are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and wedge-tailed shearwaters are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. These guidelines prohibit citizens from approaching or handling seabirds. However, picking them up to get them out of harm's way and to appropriate help is permitted.
People who find a grounded bird should make sure it is safe and not give it food or water but should call the recovery project's hot line immediately, Penniman said.
Maui's Save Our Seabirds program is a collaboration of Maui County, Maui Electric Co., Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., Haleakala National Park, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project.