BY MELORA PURELL
SPECIAL TO NORTH HAWAII NEWS
On Sept. 5, a young bird with an injured wing flew from Kauai all the way to Hawaii Island, but he didn’t have to flap his wings once. The juvenile red-footed booby flew as a passenger on a Hawaiian Airlines flight, heading to the Hawaii Wildlife Center (HWC) in Kapaau, a state-of-the-art hospital and rehabilitation center for sick and injured native Hawaiian wildlife.
At the center, the bird was examined and stabilized, and began the process of rehabilitation, with the ultimate goal of release back to its flock after it regains full health.
“We went right into rescue mode,” said HWC’s president and director Linda Elliott. The facility has intake areas, washrooms, a hospital, intensive care and isolation rooms, laboratory, and kitchen for preparing food for the birds, she said.
“We were prepared,” Elliott said. “It went smoothly; not a glitch.”
“These are absolutely beautiful birds,” said Elliott, who had worked with the species on emergency rescue operations in Hawaii in the past. “They have red feet, an opalescent bill, and bright white plumage.”
The birds are very social, and like to perch on native coastal plants like naupaka. It’s likely that residents have seen them along the shore of our island, explained Elliott. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protects most seabirds in Hawaii, she said.
The young booby will stay at the center for a few weeks, until its wound is healed. The bird will spend much of its time in an outdoor conditioning pen, where it will have the opportunity to exercise and regain strength. An adult bird would have no trouble flying back to its home flock on Kauai, but a young, inexperienced bird needs other birds around to find its way, Elliott said. Therefore, the center plans to fly the bird back to Kauai for a “soft release” back into its home.
“We’re extremely excited about being able to fulfill our mission of conserving sick and injured native birds,” Elliott said.
HWC collaborates with state and Federal wildlife agencies, as well as fellow non-profit groups like Focus Wildlife and Save Our Shearwaters, she said.
“This is a big deal for the state of Hawaii,” said Rae Okawa, HWC development director.
HWC is the only facility in Hawaii designated exclusively for native species. Of the species they care for, 90 percent are federally threatened, endangered or of high conservation concern, Okawa said.
“The prognosis for this juvenile booby looks very good,” Elliott said. “This is the first of thousands of native birds that we are going to help save.”
For more information about the Hawaii Wildlife Center, visit their website, www.hawaiiwildlifecenter.org, find them on Facebook, or call 345-8421.