Warming Climate Is Quieting Kauai's Colorful Forest Birds Once considered a paradise for the colorful songbirds, Kauai has lost more than half of those native species due to invasive species and a warming climate.
NPR logo

Warming Climate Is Quieting Kauai's Colorful Forest Birds

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/539087977/539087978" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Warming Climate Is Quieting Kauai's Colorful Forest Birds

Warming Climate Is Quieting Kauai's Colorful Forest Birds

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/539087977/539087978" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In Hawaii, on the island of Kauai, the native forest birds are in danger. The island has lost more than half of those native species, and it could be an early warning for the other Hawaiian Islands. Gloria Hillard reports.

GLORIA HILLARD, BYLINE: Native Hawaiian songs tell stories of the islands.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Hawaiian).

HILLARD: This one was inspired by the last mating call of a now extinct bird, the Kaua'i 'o'o.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Hawaiian).

SABRA KAUKA: And, you know, we still sing it with hope in our hearts.

HILLARD: Sabra Kauka is one of the singers.

KAUKA: But in truth, there - our birds - our native birds are in very steep decline.

HILLARD: Kauka, a native Hawaiian, is also a revered teacher of the island's culture.

KAUKA: Our seabirds, our mountain birds, they are just indicators of the health of the Earth.

HILLARD: On the west side of Kauai, the Alakai forest has provided a home to the island's native forest birds for millennia. It's a different picture here than the beaches and palm trees that graced most Hawaiian postcards. Trails cut through a misty bog of moss-covered trees and dark green ferns. It is cool and disturbingly quiet.

LISA CRAMPTON: I felt like I heard one of the honeycreepers way off in the distance. And I'm trying to see if I hear it again.

HILLARD: Dr. Lisa Crampton is coordinator of the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project. She says not that long ago, maybe a few decades, there were so many birds here...

CRAMPTON: We wouldn't be able to have a conversation. It was a much, much nosier forest. And in the last 10 to 15 years alone, many of our species are in 70 and 90 percent declines. They've lost - that's how fast their populations are collapsing.

HILLARD: Loss of native habitat and the introduction of invasive species like rats, wild pigs and feral cats have contributed to the birds' decline. But Crampton says mosquito-borne avian diseases from the island's warming temperatures pose the biggest threat.

CRAMPTON: These mountains that we're in right now have provided a cold - a high-elevation refuge for the birds. But as the planet warms, that refuge is getting shrunk down.

HILLARD: And could be completely gone, Crampton says, within a decade. Conservation efforts including rat control, captive breeding and habitat restoration are underway. Of the eight forest bird species on the island, three are listed as endangered. Among them is the puaiohi. The small gray and brown bird with pink feet numbers less than 500. It feeds on the fruits of native plants and plays a vital role in seed dispersal.

CRAMPTON: At least we have the puaiohi. But that's it. The puaiohi goes, and then what is going to disperse the fruits and the seeds and help this forest regenerate all these beautiful fruiting plants that are so much a part of the Hawaiian forest?

HILLARD: One bird is doing slightly better.

CRAMPTON: That sounded like an 'elepaio. Let's see if we can see it.

HILLARD: Crampton uses her best 'elepaio bird call.

CRAMPTON: (Imitating bird call). They're often very curious.

HILLARD: After an hour or so searching for the elusive cinnamon and gray bird...

CRAMPTON: There's the 'elepaio. I told you it would come in to look at us.

HILLARD: It was a mother bird and her young.

(SOUNDBITE OF 'ELEPAIO CHIRPING)

HILLARD: A quiet song helping to tell the story of this troubled forest. For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard on the island of Kauai.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.