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Seabird project asks for public’s help in stopping fallout incidents

The Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project is working to protect young seabirds from getting distracted and disoriented from artificial light during what is known as “fallout season.”

The Maui News

A conservation group on Maui is working to protect seabirds during “fallout season,” a phenomenon that occurs when artificial light from buildings and roadways causes young seabirds to get distracted and disoriented on their first flight to the ocean.

In Hawaii, seabird chicks journey from their burrow nests to the sea for the first time each year from October through December, according to the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project, which is typically flooded with calls during this time from concerned people who have found what appears to be a lost or injured seabird.

“These fallout birds can be found in the road, in parking lots, on your lanai, in the park, hiding or in plain sight, and they are in danger,” the organization said in a news release last week. “Fallout occurs when artificial light from our buildings and roadways causes them to be distracted and disoriented and to fall out or land on the ground instead of in the ocean.”

Seabird fallout can happen throughout the year with adult seabirds, but it primarily affects fledgling seabirds, mainly the ‘ua’u kani (wedge-tailed shearwaters) and the endangered ‘ua’u and ‘a’o (Hawaiian petrels and Newell’s shearwaters), the organization said.

While making their first flight to the ocean, young seabirds can get lost or injured due to artificial light from buildings and roadways. Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project photos

Normally, nocturnal instincts, hungry bellies and a strong sense of smell guide seabirds towards the ocean, using natural light from the moon and stars to navigate.

The open ocean is where they spend most of their time living and foraging for food, until they return to land to nest.

“Unfortunately, artificial light at night such as street lights, stadium lights, construction lights, building lights and residential lights are known to distract seabirds from their intended routes,” the organization said. “Artificial lights pose the greatest threat to seabirds and other wildlife when they are unshielded and high in short wavelengths.”

Circling the lights for hours leaves birds tired, dehydrated and more likely to collide with structures or fall to the ground from exhaustion or injury. Once grounded, they are “extremely vulnerable” to predators like cats and mongoose, and they are easy targets for vehicle strikes.

Seabirds who suffer from fallout cannot make it to the ocean on their own, which is why locating stranded seabirds and taking steps to rescue them is “crucial to preserving these native and endangered Hawaiian birds,” the organization noted.

Residents who find a seabird should carefully place it in a ventilated box with no food or water, then call the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project’s seabird hotline at (808) 573-BIRD (2473).

Team members will follow up with the individual, meet to collect the seabird, assess its health and collect biological data, band the seabird for long-term tracking and release it out to sea.

“Remember, you can help prevent seabird fallout simply by turning off your lights,” the organization said. “Always use warm temperatures, low in height and fully shielded wildlife-friendly lights. This type of light makes the difference not only for seabirds and other native wildlife but also for stargazing.”

To learn more about lighting ordinances and how light pollution impacts community health, visit mauinuiseabirds.org or darksky.org.

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