The Kuaokala Game Management Area (GMA) supports a small colony of Near Threatened Laysan Albatrosses Phoebastria immutabilis that breed at around 500 m in elevation in an invasive Ironwood Casuarina equisetifolia forest on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The state-managed Kuaokala GMA forms part of the Mokuleia Forest Reserve.
The colony is located approximately eight kilometres east of the Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve and its protected colony of Laysan Albatrosses. Many of its banded birds are regularly seen at both colonies. Banding at Kuaokala commenced in 1992.
Annual monitoring has been taking place since 2004 by Pacific Rim Conservation. Every year some 25 to 35 pairs of Laysan Albatrosses breed at the locality, often using fallen needles from the Ironwood trees (which are abundant on Midway Atoll) to build their nests.
Because the colony falls within a hunting area, a 530-m long four-foot (1.2 m) high fence encloses an area of 2.2 ha to prevent domestic dogs Canis familiaris and feral pigs Sus scrofa domesticus from entering. However, the birds are still vulnerable to smaller alien predators such as feral cats Felis catus and Small Indian Mongoose Herpestes auropunctatus. A permit is required to gain access from the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The entire colony’s 15 chicks and six eggs recorded earlier in the season disappeared under suspicious circumstances in 2009, probably as a result of human disturbance as the fence was found to be intact and no bird carcasses, feathers or other remains were found (click here). An investigation failed to turn up the perpetrators (click here).
The Kuaokala colony contains the highest breeding population of Laysan Albatrosses in the World. It is hoped that it will expand since birds breeding at this elevation will remain well protected against any expected sea level rise.
Photographs by Lindsay Young.
Arata, J.A., Sievert, P.R. & Naughton, M.B. 2009. Status Assessment of Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses, North Pacific Ocean, 1923-2000. U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5131. Reston: U.S. Geological Survey.
Naughton, M.B., Romano, M.D. & Zimmerman, T.S. 2007. A Conservation Action Plan for Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) and Laysan Albatross (P. immutabilis). Version 1.0.
Pyle, R.L. & Pyle, P. 2009. The Birds of the Hawaiian Islands: Occurrence, History, Distribution, and Status. Honolulu: B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu.
Vanderwerf, E.A. 2012. Albatrosses. In: Hawaiian Bird Conservation Action Plan. Honolulu: Pacific Rim Conservation. 11 pp.
Young, L.C., VanderWerf, E.A., Smith, D.G., Polhemus, J., Swenson, N., Swenson, C., Liesemeyer, B.R., Gagne, B.H. & Conant, S. 2009. Demography and natural history of Laysan Albatross on Oahu, Hawaii. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 121: 722-729.
John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer & Lindsay Young ACAP North Pacific News Correspondent, 26 December 2013