Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent - one in eight - are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers.
Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction.
Akikiki and Akeke'e, two species of honeycreepers, make their nests high in the trees of dense rainforests on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, camouflaging them as clumps of moss.
Avian malaria, loss of native habitat, hurricanes and non-native predators have devastated their population.
Losing them would mean losing a special part of Hawaii, said Bryce Masuda, Program Manager of the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.
“Akikiki and Akeke'e are found only on the Island of Kaua’i and could become extinct in a few years without an intensive conservation intervention,” said Masuda.
Members of the Kaua‘i Forest Bird Recovery Project found several eggs from both species after a long search. They were carefully collected, and transported by helicopter to a conservation facility, where they were placed in an incubator.
So far, six chicks have hatched and are doing well. Masuda said this is the best way for recovering the population of endangered birds.
“By bringing Akikiki and Akeke'e into captivity for breeding purposes, we would be able to prevent these two species from going extinct and we would be able to support their long-term recovery by eventually releasing captive-reared individuals back into the wild again,” he said.
Scientists plan to continue with the program throughout the breeding season. The same method was successfully used by the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program for increasing populations of other endangered birds on the islands.