Laysan Duck recovers from near extinction

A reintroduced Laysan Duck with its ducklings. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service (commons.wikimedia.org).
A reintroduced Laysan Duck with its ducklings. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service (commons.wikimedia.org).
Laysan Duck declined to just 20 individuals in the early 20th century, but is on the way to recovery due to conservation efforts.

Laysan Ducks once lived on the main Hawaiian Islands, but disappeared about 800 years ago with the arrival of invasive rats. The ducks became restricted to Laysan Island, in the north-western Hawaiian Islands, bout 150 years ago. By 1911, the Laysan Duck population was estimated at fewer than 20 birds, but in 2004, the ducks were successfully reintroduced to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

Following rabbit and rat eradication, along with habitat restoration and translocation efforts, the combined population approached 1,000 birds by 2010 on both Laysan and Midway. The Japanese tsunami in 2011 caused a 40 percent decrease in the population, and today the ducks continue to be threatened by avian disease, severe storms, and sea level rise.

Last September, 28 young wild Laysan Ducks were brought by ship from Midway to the remote Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, where they were released.

“Laysan Ducks do not fly between atolls, so each additional island reintroduction helps to restore its distribution and the biodiversity of Hawaii,” explained Dr Michelle Reynolds of the US Geological Survey.

To prepare Kure Atoll for the ducks, the State of Hawaii, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) replaced alien weeds with native plants and removed invasive species such as predatory rats and ants. The agency also created wetlands and helped to otherwise restore native habitat. The DLNR reported that 19 new downy ducklings were observed last month.

Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary Manager Cynthia Vanderlip said: “Everyone working on this project to help save an endangered species is thrilled that this reintroduction may reduce the extinction risk of this rare Hawaiian endemic duck. We all feel like proud parents.”

For a video clip of Laysan ducks at Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, see: https://vimeo.com/127316564.