It’s Wedgie Season
Nene o Molokai News Release
October and November is fledging season for uau kani, when young birds fledge to a life at sea. Wedge-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus), or “wedgies,” are part of a mixed flock of seabirds that commercial fishermen rely upon to locate schools of ahi and other marketable fish. Adult birds leave coastal colonies at dawn to feed on fish and return after dark. Behavior while in these colonies is generally nocturnal and throughout the night birds emit weird moans, groans and loud screams, thus they are nicknamed the “moaning bird.”
Seabirds were held in high esteem by ancient Hawaiians. Birds returning to land at night were used to navigate home from sea, shifting weather was indicated by a change in behavior, feathers were made into capes, lei, and kahili for ali`i, and seabirds figured prominently in legends, proverbs, and sayings.
Wedge-tailed shearwaters nest on all the major and offshore islands in the Hawaiian chain by digging a burrow with their bill and feet or utilizing natural crevices. Nesting sites are reused from year to year. The largest colony on Molokai lies hidden in the dunes of The Nature Conservancy’s Mo`omomi Preserve. Discovered September 1999, by Arleone Dibben-Young and U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Calvin Willis while teaching students about Hawaii’s coastal plants, the colony typically fledges more than 400 young birds per season.
Egg-laying begins mid-June, with one bright white egg forming the clutch. Parents share the 53-day incubation period, usually in stints of 7 to 10 days, and sometimes sit side-by-side. Chicks are fed fish once a day by regurgitation. Parents leave the nest site two to three weeks before their young have fledged, which takes approximately 100 to 115 days. Shearwaters are clumsy on land; legs are placed so far to the rear of the body that they cannot walk, so instead waddle. Young birds not yet capable of flight may wander from their burrows in search of food and are highly vulnerable to predators, often falling prey to mongoose, cats and dogs.
Many fledglings are attracted at night by urban lights and fall into residential areas or onto highways where they are struck by automobiles. Caution should be used when driving at Kaunakakai Wharf as young birds fallen to the ground from exhaustion or striking harbor lights have been found numerous times on the roadway and parking lot. If you find a “downed” seabird, call Arleone at 553-5992 for rehabilitation.