Eight Fluffy Baby Birds Helicoptered to Hawaii

The birds, which have shag carpet-like plumage, are endangered Newell's shearwater chicks.

Photo: A Newell's shearwater chick. Credit: USFWS-Pacific Region, Flickr

Eight fluffy baby football-sized birds were just helicoptered to a scenic Hawaiian wildlife refuge in a conservation effort that was years in the making. The birds, which have shag carpet-like plumage, are endangered Newell's shearwater chicks that scientists hope will become healthy reproducing adults and the founders of a new colony on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Photo credit: Andre Raine/Kauaʻi Endangered Seabird Recovery Project

The birds' helicopter escort followed by vehicle transport. The helicopter arrived near the birds' place of origin at the Upper Limahuli Preserve in the Hawaiian Islands.

Photo credit: Lindsay Young, Pacific Rim Conservation

Members of the conservation crew carry the birds from the helicopter to their new home.

Photo: Newell's shearwater chicks in pet carriers, ready to be driven to their new protected home. Credit: Lindsay Young, Pacific Rim Conservation.

The mission to boost the species' numbers on the island involves the Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, Pacific Rim Conservation (PRC), American Bird Conservancy, the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The birds are now settling into their new home at the Nihokū region of the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. Their spacious 7.8-acre spread is surrounded by a 6.5-feet high predator-proof fence.

Photo: Newell's shearwater chick in a natural burrow. Artificial burrows were constructed as part of the rescue operation meant to increase numbers of this endangered bird species. Photo credit: Andre Raine/Kauaʻi Endangered Seabird Recovery Project

Lindsay Young, the project coordinator for PRC, and Hannah Nevins of ABC's Seabird Program spoke to Discovery News today from atop the refuge at Kīlauea Point as they checked on the baby birds.

"The chicks all looked really good and healthy," Nevins said. "They all looked spunky."

Young added, "We're just about to do the first feeding. They're going to be fed a slurry of fish and squid and Pedialyte (a dehydration-prevention solution)."

Newell's shearwaters are one of two seabirds native to the Hawaiian Islands. They are found nowhere else on Earth. Collisions with man-made structures during night flights, predation by a multitude of hungry animals and birds (cats, rats, pigs, barn owls and more) and other threats have greatly reduced the bird's numbers over the years.

The rescue operation involved two teams working at Kauai's rugged mountain interior and along the coast. One team traveled via helicopter to a mountain peak located in the Upper Limahuli Preserve. There the researchers removed seven large, healthy chicks from the bird's burrow nesting site.

The chicks were placed into pet carriers and carried up the side of the mountain to a waiting helicopter. Next, the chicks were flown to the Princeville airport and then driven to the refuge and their new home within the predator-proof fence.

The eighth rescued chick was found several weeks earlier in the Hono O Na Pali Natural Area Reserve, where it had left its burrow and become lost.

Newell's Shearwater chicks imprint on their birth colony location the first time they emerge from their burrows and see the night sky, and will return to breed at the same colony as adults. Since chicks were removed from their natural burrows before this critical imprinting stage, the hope is that they will emerge from their nest boxes and imprint on the Nihokū area and return to the site as adults.

In the meantime, the chicks are receiving attentive care. Their growth will be carefully monitored until they leave their new nest burrows and fly out to sea. They will remain at sea for the next 3 to 5 years. The envisioned new colony will be the only fully protected colony of this species anywhere in the Hawaiian Islands.

"It's planting the seed of a colony," Young said. "Because the birds are highly social, we hope that they'll attract more birds coming in over time, and that the colony will continue to grow."