24 Endangered Birds Gifted Their Own Hawaiian Island

millerbirds relocated photo
Photo and inset via Wikipedia Commons

For a handful of lucky, yet critically endangered songbirds, life just got a whole lot roomier. The tiny species of Millerbird, native to Hawaii's Nihoa island, has been teetering on the brink of extinction there for decades. But now, in an attempt to hedge the chances of the bird's survival, conservationists have gifted two dozen of them a new place to call their very own own -- a remote, 1,023 acres Hawaiian island that, naturalists hope, will become a Millerbird love nest.Millerbirds number only around 600 individuals on their native island of Nihoa, but they're under constant threat of being wiped out entirely due to droughts, fires, or the presence of foreign species -- and it wouldn't be the first time. Nearly a century ago, on Hawaii's Laysan island 650 miles away, invasive rabbits had driven a related species of Millerbird to extinction, leaving a void in the delicate ecosystem.

Several years ago, however, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in partnership with the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), hatched a plan to repopulate Laysan island -- now sans rabbits -- with a starter group of Millerbirds from Nihoa. Conservationists hope that, by establishing a new population of the birds elsewhere, the species would be less vulnerable to changes on their current island home -- all while restoring a sense of balance to Laysan, where Millerbirds once could thrive.

"So instead of putting our eggs literally in one basket on one island, what we are trying to do is create a second population that will essentially reduce the overall risk of extinction," Dr. George Wallace of American Bird Conservancy told Hawaii's KITV.

Officials rounded up 24 Millerbirds in total for the relocation, a dozen males and a dozen females, and transported them to their new island home. A team of researchers will remain on Laysan over the next year to monitor the birds' progress.

"Translocation is an important tool for the conservation of endangered island birds, and the Millerbird translocation stands on the shoulders of previous efforts," Holly Freifeld, biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a release. "This project also breaks a lot of new ground, and has been a model of teamwork and innovation for the past five years. Twenty-two people - the Millerbird team, the crew of the M/V Searcher, and the FWS restoration team on Laysan - worked very hard and with high energy and spirits to make this trip a success."

Now that the endangered Millerbirds have been released, the most intensive efforts of the FWS and ABC to save the species by relocating them have come to an end. Now it's up to the birds to make the most of their new island home.

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