What’s going on with Hawai‘i’s birds? Fencing | Part 3/4

Posted by Joanna Maney on

Some other good things going on here across the islands that are helping native birds are the habitat restoration programs and predator-proof fencing projects. These fences help keep native bird habitat free from invasive predators—the ones introduced by humans—like the house cat and the mongoose. These fencing projects protect both forest habitat and sea bird nesting sites.

Sea birds are vulnerable because most species nest on the ground. They are so vulnerable in fact, that one loose house cat can destroy an entire colony of birds in one night. Sadly, this has happened repeatedly at the loss of entire families, chicks and parents. The evidence has been caught on remote cameras and is very sad to watch. And once the colony is wiped out, no birds are left to remember to return to that spot to nest again, a spot that likely was the place where generations of their ancestors nested for hundreds of years. 

Fencing protects forest birds from invasive predators as well but it also protects forest habitat, trees and underbrush from plant eating invasive animals like wild pigs, goats, and sheep. These plant monchers are called ungulates, that means hoofed mammal, and ungulates are pretty hard on any landscape. They will eat all the understory which is basically everything growing around the bottom of the larger trees in a forest. These mammalian black holes of digestion will even eat the small sapling trees and the bark off mature trees as far up as they can reach. They basically eat everything they can get their teeth on and that creates a much more barren landscape, a very different environment than what was here in Hawai‘i before people showed up with their hungry farm animals.

I actually got the chance to walk along one of these fences and let me tell you, the difference was stark! One side was lava rock and a few scrubby plants and scraggly bushes and directly on the other side of the fence there was a beautiful forest with big trees, and a lush, flowering and ferny understory with cooler breezes. It was like night and day along the line of that fence. I was standing there contemplating the difference when a family of wild goats wandered by. Yep, guess which side of the fence they were on?

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