MU researcher works to save one of the world's most endangered birds

Mar 21, 2011
The entire population of the Tuamotu Kingfisher -- less than 125 -- lives on one tiny island in the south Pacific, and without serious intervention soon, they will cease to exist. Credit: Kesler/University of Missouri

The Tuamotu Kingfisher is a multicolored, tropical bird with bright blue feathers, a dusty orange head, and a bright green back. The entire population of these birds – less than 125 – lives on one tiny island in the south Pacific, and without serious intervention, they will no longer exist. One University of Missouri researcher is trying to stop the birds' extinction by working with farmers and residents on the island inhabited by the kingfishers.

"If we lose these , we lose 50,000 years of uniqueness and evolution," said Dylan Kesler, assistant professor in fisheries and wildlife at the University of Missouri's School of Natural Resources in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. "Because it has lived in isolation for a very long time, it's unlike any other bird. There is no other bird like this on the planet."

In new studies published in the journal The Auk (published by the American Ornithologists Union) and the Journal of Wildlife Management, Kesler and his team of researchers have uncovered important information to help ensure the birds' survival and a unique way to attach radio transmitters to the birds to track them.

To survive, the kingfishers need several specific habitat characteristics:

  • Hunting Perches about 5 feet off the ground – The birds hunt by "pouncing." They watch their prey and then fall on them from hunting perches about 5 feet high. Without the perches in broadleaf trees at the appropriate height, the birds have no way to hunt.
  • Exposed ground – the birds' food consists mainly of lizards, which are easier to spot where the ground is clear of vegetation. When coconut farmers conduct intermediate burns on their land – which are hot enough to kill brush, but do not lead to widespread fires or kill the lizards – it exposes more ground and the birds can see the lizards.
  • Dead trees for nesting – the birds create nests by flying into dead trees and hollowing cavities. Live trees are too hard and many farmers cut down their dead coconut trees. By encouraging farmers to leave some dead trees, the birds will continue to be able to build nests.
  • Lessoning the impact of predators – cats and rats, which were introduced to the island by humans, now hunt the Tuamotu Kingfisher. By wrapping metal bands around the , the predators are less likely to get into the nests, but Kesler is still searching for other solutions that might alleviate the pressure on the birds.
In a separate study, Kesler also developed a "weak-link" radio harness for the birds to wear. In previous studies with different birds, scientists have reported unintentional harm to the birds after attaching radio transmitters. That harm included scratching the birds, making the birds act peculiarly and introducing infections. Using this new harness, Kesler was able to track the birds during the study, and the harness was shed within two months.

Kesler also developed a "weak-link" radio harness for the birds to wear. Using this new harness, Kesler was able to track the birds during the study, and the harness was shed within two months. Credit: Kesler/University of Missouri

"Unfortunately, even with all our work to date, the is still crashing," Kesler said. "We're seeing some turnover, but each year when we return, there are more empty territories and the population decreases. At this rate, these birds will be gone within our lifetime."

Explore further: Ants in space find it tougher going than those on Earth

More information: For more information, visit: picra.net/tk2010/TK2010/Introduction.html

Related Stories

Birds quarantined at Texas pet stores

Mar 01, 2006

PetSmart Inc. has reportedly offered to quarantine birds at its Texas stores after two of them began showing signs of a bacterial infection.

Nuthatch moves north in Britain

Dec 24, 2005

The tiny nuthatch, one of the smallest birds in Britain, has been moving north and is now breeding successfully in southern Scotland.

Recommended for you

Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador

14 hours ago

It doesn't turn into Prince Charming, but a new species of frog discovered in Ecuador has earned the nickname "transformer frog" for its ability to change its skin from spiny to smooth in five minutes.

US gives threatened status to northern long-eared bat

17 hours ago

The federal government said Wednesday that it is listing the northern long-eared bat as threatened, giving new protections to a species that has been nearly wiped out in some areas by the spread of a fungal ...

Mice sing like songbirds to woo mates

17 hours ago

Male mice sing surprisingly complex songs to seduce females, sort of like songbirds, according to a new Duke study appearing April 1 in the Frontiers of Behavioral Neuroscience.

A new crustacean species found in Galicia

18 hours ago

One reason that tourists are attracted to Galicia is for its food. The town of O Grove (Pontevedra) is well known for its Seafood Festival and the Spider Crab Festival. A group of researchers from the University ...

Ants in space find it tougher going than those on Earth

19 hours ago

(Phys.org)—The results of a study conducted to see how well ants carry out their search activities in space are in, and the team that sent them there has written and published the results in the journal ...

Rats found able to recognize pain in other rat faces

20 hours ago

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers working in Japan with affiliations to several institutions in that country, has found that lab rats are able to recognize pain in the faces of other rats and avoid them ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

epsi00
not rated yet Mar 22, 2011
we, the human species, are the problem. It's been shown many times over and one day we will find ourselves alone on this planet. Hopefully we will go extinct before that happens so that other species can live in peace and go extinct only if dictated by evolution.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.