Birds, not Rats!

This post was written by Kayla Bonnet, the 2014-15 Americorps Avian Conservation Intern at Kaua’i Forest Bird Recovery Project. Kayla recently graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in Wildlife Biology and has worked with other endangered species in the past including western Snowy Plovers. Read more below about the Recovery Project’s crowd-funding campaign to help protect Kauai’s beautiful native forest birds or go directly to their Indiegogo page.

The air is thick with moisture and the ground muddy along the Alaka’i Swamp trail of Kaua’i. A blanket of green moss covers nearly everything from the stones on the ground up to the trunks and tangled branches of the ‘ōhi`a-lehua trees. Flashes of bird wings occasionally grace the observant passer-by within this green world, their songs the only break in the rustling of the wind-blown leaves. Looking around, you are almost guaranteed an ‘Apapane or Kaua’i ‘Elepaio – both of which are often given away by their chattering, chirps, and songs. Closer observation may reveal an ‘Anianiau or Kaua’i ‘Amakihi with bright yellow plumage lighting up the forest. Unfortunately, you almost certainly will not see three particular species: the ‘Akikiki or Kaua’i Creeper, the Akeke’e or Kaua’i ‘Akepa, and the Puaiohi or the Small Kaua’i Thrush. All three are found only on Kaua’i, and all three are federally listed as endangered. Their uniqueness not only makes them remarkable, but also highly susceptible to non-native invaders.

The endangered Akekee, or Kauai Akepa, is a canopy specialist, using its crossed beak to pry open buds in search of insects to eat. Photo by Mike Teruya.

The endangered Akekee, or Kauai Akepa, is a canopy specialist, using its crossed beak to pry open buds in search of insects to eat. Photo by Mike Teruya.

The isolation, age, and topography of the Hawaiian Islands have led to an amazingly diverse array of birds. Just 14 species of birds colonized the islands long ago, but they evolved and branched into over 130 unique species over time. Unfortunately, Hawai’i is at the epicenter of the current global extinction crisis. Of those original 130+ native Hawaiian bird species, many have been lost forever, and only 11 are not yet endangered. Today, Kaua’i is home to eight native forest bird species, three of which are endangered. Populations of these birds have plummeted as much as 90% in the last five years; the ‘Akikiki and the Puaiohi now number fewer than 500 birds, and the Akeke‘e numbers fewer than 1,000 individuals.

So why are these populations plummeting? One of the biggest threats to these songbirds has been the introduction of rats. These clever opportunists have spread throughout the island of Kaua’i (as well as other Hawaiian Islands), thriving not only in urban habitats, but also deep within the native forests. Evolving in the absence mammalian predators on the island (the only land mammal to successfully colonize Kaua’i was a bat), the birds were naïve to the threat presented by the rats. Rats decimate bird nests, eating not only eggs and chicks, but even the adult birds tending the nests. As if that wasn’t enough, they will also eat the fruits, flowers, and bark of native plants that the birds rely on for both food and habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stated that the reduction of invasive rat populations is critical to the preservation of these endemic birds. The Kaua’i Forest Bird Recovery Project is working to address this issue with the use of the incredibly innovative Goodnature® trap. These humane traps are powered by a pressurized CO2 cartridge, require no poison, and can kill up to 20 rats before needing to be reset. The Goodnature company has truly built a better mousetrap! In a pilot project they conducted last year, these traps killed over 100 rats in three months on an experimental plot, and prevented more rats from invading (compared to a control plot, where no traps were used).

To really make an impact on the birds, the Recovery Project needs more traps. Their crowdfunding campaign – Birds, not Rats! – has so far funded the purchase of at least 75 more traps to place in the forest to further protect the birds. With these traps, 40 ha of forest bird habitat will be protected. With more traps, an even larger area and more birds will be protected. These efforts will create a haven within the forest where birds can safely nest, and thus begin the recovery of Kaua’i’s forest birds.
To donate, visit the campaign website at

Or send a check made out to GIRCD to:

PO Box 27
Hanapepe, HI 96716

All donations are tax-deductible; GIRCD is KFBRP’s 501(c)(3) sponsor.