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That’s not a dog – it’s an endangered seabird!

March 21, 2012

The yapping sounds heard in the night may be reminiscent of a dog’s bark, but there’s no need to go off in search of a misplaced litter of puppies. The yapping is just one sound made by the `Ua`u (aka Hawaiian Petrel). The `ua`u are seabirds that nest in colonies on Maui, Lana`i, Kauai, Hawaii Island, and possibly Moloka`i. The largest known nesting colony can be found on the top of Mt. Haleakala with an estimated 450-650 breeding pairs.
`Ua`u feed mainly on squid and spend the winter months at sea. During the rest of the year, the birds search for food over deep waters of the ocean during the day and return to the nesting colony at night. Nesting colonies are found on steep, rocky slopes and cliffs. The colonies consist of burrows 3 to 30 feet long. Pairs mate for life and produce one egg per year. Young birds leave their burrows for the first time in the cover of night, possibly using the stars to navigate, and spend the next 3-6 years at sea.
Early Hawaiians considered the young `Ua`u a delicacy. They were tabooed and reserved for consumption only by ali`i (Hawaiian royalty). Fossil remains suggest that both adult and young`Ua`u were harvested on a large scale. Though once numerous throughout the Hawaiian Islands and found at all elevations, habit loss, predation, and groundings have left the `Ua`u population much declined. They were designated as an endangered species in 1967.
At Haleakala National Park, rangers strive to protect the `Ua`u by maintaining fences that keep out large mammals like goats, pigs, and dogs and trapping mongooses and cats. The public in Maui County can help by keeping an eye out for grounded birds and reporting any findings to 1-877-428-6911. More information on grounded seabirds can be found here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2012 12:35 pm

    For a sample of the yapping petrels go to:

  2. Stephen Melinger permalink
    May 1, 2012 4:32 am

    I don’t understand how the young birds can hunt for food in the ocean all day before returning to land at night to sleep. Do they float on the waters from time to time or somehow manage to keep in flight all day long? As to being a delicacy only served to royalty long ago, this practice no doubt kept the species from becoming extinct as they were not eaten by the general populace.

    • Haleakala Ranger permalink*
      May 1, 2012 4:35 pm

      Stephen,

      Once the young birds leave the nest and go out to sea, they do not return to the nest at night. Mature birds with offspring forage for food during the day and return to the nest at night to feed the chick. Once the chick is mature enough, it leaves the nest and lives at sea for several years. `Ua`u and other seabirds do land in the ocean. `Ua`u populations have declined mostly from habitat destruction and the introduction of mammals like ungulates, cats, dogs, and mongooses.

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