Mosquitoes to the Rescue? A Groundbreaking Conservation Effort in Hawaii

Birdorable Akekee and 'Akikiki birds in Hawaii

‘Akeke‘e (left) and 'Akikiki (right)

In an unprecedented and inspiring leap towards conservation, the American Bird Conservancy, alongside other conservatoin agencies, has embarked on a groundbreaking mission in Hawaii to save several critically endangered Hawaiian honeycreepers from the brink of extinction. The culprits behind the looming threat? Invasive Southern House Mosquitoes carrying avian malaria. The solution? A clever, innovative strategy involving the release of non-biting male mosquitoes engineered to curb the mosquito population and, by extension, the spread of the deadly disease.

Hawaiian honeycreepers, with their vibrant plumage and unique evolutionary history, are more than just birds; they are integral to Hawaii's ecological and cultural tapestry. Once flourishing with over 50 native species, the islands now see a stark reduction to merely 17, each teetering dangerously close to oblivion. The initiative, aptly named Birds, Not Mosquitoes (BNM), marks a significant milestone in conservation efforts, particularly as it coincides with Makahiki o Nā Manu Nahele, or the Year of the Forest Bird, amplifying its significance and urgency.

November 2023 saw the first of these mosquito releases on Maui and Kaua‘i, following extensive study, analysis, and regulatory nods from state and federal bodies. This innovative approach introduces mosquitoes carrying a strain of Wolbachia bacteria, harmless to humans but fatal to mosquito progeny. When these engineered males mate with wild females, the resulting eggs fail to hatch, leading to a gradual but significant decrease in mosquito populations.

This technique, already proven in combating mosquito-borne human diseases globally, promises a ray of hope for Hawaii's feathered natives. Without intervention, climate change's warmer, drier conditions push mosquitoes to higher elevations, directly threatening the survival of species like the Kiwikiu and ‘Ākohekohe on Maui, and ‘Akikiki and ‘Akeke‘e on Kaua‘i. Experts warn that without a drastic reduction in mosquito numbers, these birds could vanish within a decade.

'I'iwi by Mellisa McMasters (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Behind this ambitious project is a broad coalition of state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and researchers, all united under the banner of the U.S. Department of Interior's Strategy to Prevent the Extinction of Hawaiian Forest Birds. The initiative not only aims to stabilize and eventually increase native bird populations but also sets the stage for future re-introductions from conservation breeding programs.

Monitoring forms the backbone of this initiative, with teams on Maui and Kaua‘i meticulously tracking mosquito populations with traps, as well as malaria prevalence, and bird population dynamics. This extensive, data-driven approach ensures that the intervention's impact is scientifically measured, paving the way for further releases and an expanded fight against avian malaria.

The commitment of nearly $16 million by the current administration under the Investing in America Agenda underscores the project's importance, signaling a collective determination to protect Hawaii's unique biodiversity. As 2024 unfolds, the partnership eyes continued efforts on Maui, expanded operations on Kaua‘i, and a comprehensive Statewide Environmental Assessment to explore wider applications of this conservation tool.

This pioneering endeavor exemplifies the power of collaboration, innovation, and dedication in the face of seemingly insurmountable conservation challenges. As the Birds, Not Mosquitoes project advances, it stands as a testament to the potential for science and unity to forge a future where Hawaii's skies are once again filled with the vibrant chorus of its native honeycreepers.


Woodpiecer on May 7, 2024 at 3:18 AM wrote:
There are 5 birds found in the island of Kaua'i. The Kauai Elepaio, Kauai Oo (extinct), Kauai Nukupuu, Kauai Akialoa, and the Kauai Amakihi. And can you please add the Maui Parrotbill (Kiwikiu) and the ‘Ākohekohe to Birdorable, please???

Leave a comment

Comments with links or HTML will be deleted. Your comment will be published pending approval.
Your email address will not be published
You can unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For more information on how to unsubscribe, our privacy practices, and how we are committed to protecting and respecting your privacy, please review our Privacy Policy. By clicking submit below, you consent to allow Birdorable to store and process the personal information submitted above to provide you the content requested.

Gray Jay Named National Bird of Canada

Last year, in a public poll conducted by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Canadian citizens voted for an unofficial national bird to represent their country. The finalists were: the Canada Goose, long associated with the national identiy; the

The American Wigeon Joins Birdorable: A Duck with a 'Bald' Look

Happy Independence Day to all our American readers! As we continue with our exciting 2013 Bonanza, we're thrilled to be adding new birds daily throughout July. Today, we celebrate by introducing the American Wigeon, a special species as we approach our 500th Birdorable bird.

2015 Bonanza Bird #11: Many-colored Rush Tyrant

Our Birdorable Bonanza: 2015 Advent Edition is rolling along! Today's new bird is a South American species of flycatcher: the Many-colored Rush Tyrant! Many-colored Rush Tyrants are songbirds in the flycatcher family. They are found across much of southern South America. This...

Some Gull Humor

This week, we're celebrating the gulls of the world! Today we're wrapping up the week with a little bit of gull humor! What do you call a gull when it flies over a bay? A bagel! (bay-gull)