“It takes a community of dedicated individuals and support to make conservation happen” - the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project.

Operating on a shoestring budget and with the help of volunteers and dozens of organizations, the Maui Forest Bird and Recovery Project, a HawaiianMiles nonprofit partner, conducts impactful work to recover the island’s endangered birds and restore their habitats.

With only six native forest birds remaining on Maui, project staff tag species with a leg bracelet that does not restrict their mobility and feeds researchers data on health, reproductive status, age and measurements. Over 10,000 birds have been banded to date.

The endangered kiwikiu (Maui Parrotbill) bird.

The project – established in 1997 by the state of Hawai‘i’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to support both agencies’ recovery work – also addresses the restoration of forest habitat and the control of predators such as mongoose, rats and cats, as well as the threat of ungulates and mosquitoes.   

Anyone can get behind its mission by volunteering with writing and researching skills, venturing into the wilderness, planting a tree, or, our favorite, donating HawaiianMiles!

This year, in commemoration of Giving Tuesday, miles contributed to our nonprofits partners will take them farther. For every mile donated on Dec. 1, we will match up to 100,000 HawaiianMiles to each recipient organization – on top of 500,000 miles we pledge to match annually.

For the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, miles are used to transport birds to safe environments while habitat threats are being mitigated and take staff and volunteers to research sites, training and scientific conferences.

We asked Dr. Hanna Mounce, who joined the project in 2006 as a field technician and now serves as its coordinator, for an update on the group’s work.

Dr. Hanna Mounce

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected operations at the Maui Native Bird Recovery Project?

Our field teams have had to make a lot of changes to be able to continue our work while practicing safe social distancing. Our team members all work remotely at home for reports, publications and grant writing, and our Olinda base yard is only used pre- and post-field trips. Our team of three that does the bulk of our fieldwork has had to learn to camp individually instead of using base camps and cabins as we have done in the past.

A socially distanced camping site, where project researchers stay for up to a week in the field.

What are some research and conservation projects currently underway?

Currently, our team has been surveying for endangered kiwikiu (Maui Parrotbill) in areas of east Maui. We are trying to cover all areas that this species was previously known from to quantify range contractions for this critically endangered bird. While in these forest areas, we are also surveying for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes and the diseases that they carry, particularly avian malaria, are the single biggest threat to our native forest birds and the mosquitoes are moving higher up the mountain with warmer temperatures.

What is the biggest challenge you are facing today?

Our biggest challenge right now is to develop and implement the tools to control mosquitoes and disease. This is something that has not been done before and may be the only way that we can save the Hawaiian honeycreepers that we have left.

How can the community support your efforts?

As a small project, we have been hit hard with the inability to work with volunteers in 2020. With the risks of COVID-19 transmission likely extending into 2021, we are going to be very strapped for funding and personnel to push our work forward. We can always use any support that people can give, as well as their advocacy in support of conservation work at the county, state, and federal levels. We have also not been able to share our work and messages as much in 2020 without public events. Please follow us online, including on Facebook and Instagram, or attend a conservation training to be able to help spread the information about threats to Hawai'i's wildlife and what we can do to help prevent further extinctions.