Mission critical: saving an endemic kingfisher on the brink

Mission critical: saving an endemic kingfisher on the brink

By Liam Hughes

A blue streak darts down into the rainforest undergrowth, prior to reappearing with a a freshly caught gecko and revealing itself to be a Marquesas Kingfisher. This compact blue and white bird, identified domestically as Pahi, is just one of two Critically Endangered kingfishers endemic to French Polynesia.

Traditionally observed on two of the archipelago’s islands – Hiva Oa and Tahuata – it was once relatively prevalent, preferring deep rainforests in the valleys of the islands, although they are also discovered nesting in coconut and mango plantations. On the other hand, like a lot of island endemics, the species’ fortunes modified after invasive species arrived.

While early predation from released rats and cats no doubt had an affect, the introduction of Great Horned Owls to Hiva Oa in 1927 – ironically an intentional endeavour by a church on the island to command invasive rats – in the end experienced the most devastating effect, and Marquesas Kingfishers are now possible extinct on that island.

Fortuitously, the lesser outpost of Tahuata was spared from owls and is now the remaining refuge for the species. This 61-km2 island is not devoid of its very own threats, even so, which consist of predation and disturbance from invasive rodents, cats and Yellow Crazy Ants, and the felling of massive dead trees that Marquesas Kingfishers use for nesting. Along with these, there is the at any time-current risk that a Terrific Horned Owl might journey throughout the brief, 4-km channel separating the two islands.

When the affect of these threats is unidentified, successive surveys prompt the species’ populace had just about halved to 261 birds from 2003 to 2017. These stressing declines prompted an in-depth research in 2020, which the good news is approximated that just about 400 Pahi stay on the island – suggesting preceding surveys may well have overestimated the scale of the drop. Extra surveys and interviews with nearby hunters also uncovered the island continues to be totally free from Terrific Horned Owls, one more promising indication for the species.

Inspite of these symptoms of optimism, it is nevertheless a person of the most threatened species in the Marquesas archipelago and, considering the fact that 2011, SOP Manu (BirdLife in French Polynesia) has been functioning with area communities to secure the kingfisher, developing an an NGO devoted to its defense in 2020. Named Pahi te manu makivi o Tahuata (or Pahi, the wonderful fowl of Tahuata), the organisation has raised consciousness of the species throughout its past island household. This yr, SOP Manu has also skilled quite a few neighborhood neighborhood customers to establish the kingfisher and its nests, which will develop into a frequent checking programme to discover much more about this Critically Endangered bird and the threats it faces.

“While inhabitants quantities appear steady, aside from surveys every couple several years very little was performed [to help] the species, specifically concerning its threats,” states María Igual, expert ornithologist for SOP Manu. “The hope is that the neighborhood NGO will increase awareness for the kingfishers among islanders, specially to study for Wonderful Horned Owl arrivals, as effectively as doing the job with coconut farmers to recognize kingfisher nests and enable secure them.