News and Events

Second Voyage to Move Endangered Millerbirds Departs Honolulu

Translocated Millerbird at home on Laysan Island.
Translocated Millerbird at home on Laysan Island. Credit: R. Kohley/American Bird Conservancy & USFWS

On August 10, 2012, a group of biologists set sail for the remote northwestern Hawaiian island of Nihoa in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM), where they will attempt to catch a group of endangered Millerbirds and move them to Laysan Island some 650 miles away in order to save one of the United States' rarest bird species from extinction.

This is the second such translocation being attempted by the team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and other organizations in an effort to restore Millerbirds to Laysan Island within the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge and PMNM.

After a 30-hour journey from Honolulu, researchers aboard the M/V Searcher arrive at Nihoa Island.
After a 30-hour journey from Honolulu, researchers aboard the M/V Searcher arrive at Nihoa Island in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Credit: H. Freifeld/USFWS

Millerbirds have been absent from Laysan for almost a century as a result of habitat destruction due to introduced rabbits and other livestock. FWS has been working to restore Laysan's native vegetation for more than two decades. A self-sustaining Millerbird population on Laysan will ensure that the species is no longer vulnerable to extinction from a catastrophic event on Nihoa such as a hurricane or the accidental introduction of an alien predator or disease.

"We are pleased and excited that our intensive restoration work on Laysan over two decades has facilitated the reintroduction of Millerbirds to the island," said Don Palawski, Acting FWS Superintendent of PMNM.

Last year, 24 Millerbirds were moved from Nihoa in the first, highly successful translocation of this species. Since their release on Laysan on September 10, 2011, this pioneer group of birds has survived and thrived, producing 17 young.

"The reproductive success of the first group of birds moved to Laysan is very encouraging and demonstrates that Laysan is quite a hospitable island for Millerbirds from Nihoa," said Sheila Conant of the University of Hawai'i, who pioneered the study of the Millerbird in the 1980s and is a member of this year's translocation team.

Transporting the birds off Nihoa Island is tricky business.
Transporting the birds off Nihoa Island is tricky business: Daniel Tsukayama holds birds above the surge while Eric VanderWerf and Cameron Rutt (USFWS/ABC) stand ready to help. Credit: T. Work/USGS-National Wildlife Health Research Center

The team of experienced biologists hopes to capture 26 birds on Nihoa Island and transport them to Laysan, bringing the total number of "founder" Millerbirds to 50—the target number set by the conservation team for giving the species the best possible chance of establishing a self-sustaining population on Laysan.

The team will spend several days on Nihoa to capture the birds and acclimate them to captivity prior to the three-day voyage to Laysan. While at sea aboard the vessel M/V Searcher, the Millerbirds will be cared for by avian husbandry experts and a wildlife veterinarian from the U.S. Geological Survey, and accompanied by a Native Hawaiian cultural liaison. The team will spend two days on Laysan to release the birds and initiate radio-tracking of their movements. One biologist will remain through the winter to monitor the newly released Millerbirds, the young produced in 2012, and the adults translocated in 2011.

"Everyone is excited and encouraged by the promising results of the first translocation, and looking forward to the second movement of birds," said George Wallace, ABC Vice President for Oceans and Islands.

"The success of this project stands as an outstanding example of what can be achieved through dedicated teamwork, careful planning, and passion for conservation," said Sheldon Plentovich, FWS Coastal Program Coordinator for the Pacific Islands, and lead biologist on the Millerbird project.

As a co-manager of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and World Heritage site, the FWS is proud to lead this project in collaboration with the American Bird Conservancy, and is grateful for the support and assistance from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the University of New Brunswick, University of Hawaiʻi, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Research Center, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

To learn more about the Millerbird project and read updates from Laysan, visit and

To view images from the project, visit: (you will be directed to a non-NOAA website).

Click Here to view the August 10, 2012 Press Release (213kb pdf).

Click Here for the Latest Update on the Nihoa Millerbirds on Laysan Island.

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