Population trends of native Hawaiian forest birds, 1976–2008: the data and statistical analyses

Technical Report HCSU-TR012
By: , and 



The Hawaii Forest Bird Interagency Database Project has produced a centralized database of forest bird survey data collected in Hawai`i since the mid-1970s. The database contains over 1.1 million bird observation records of 90 species from almost 600 surveys on the main Hawaiian  Islands—a dataset including nearly all surveys from that period. The primary objective has been to determine the status and trends of native Hawaiian forest birds derived from this comprehensive dataset. 
We generated species-specific density estimates from each survey and tested for changes in population densities over the longest possible temporal period. Although this cumulative data set seems enormous and represents the best available information on status of Hawaiian forest birds, detecting meaningful population distribution, density, and trends for forest birds in Hawai`i has been difficult. These population parameters are best derived from long-term, large-scale, standardized monitoring programs. The basis for long-term population monitoring in Hawai`i was established by the Hawaii Forest Bird Survey of 1976-1983 (Scott et al. 1986). Since then, however, only key areas have been resurveyed, primarily to monitor rare species. The majority of surveys since the early 1980s have been conducted by numerous, independent programs, resulting in some inconsistencies in methodology and sampling that in some cases has been intermittent and usually at limited scale (temporally or spatially). Thus, despite the consolidation of data into a centralized database, our understanding of population patterns is rather limited, especially at the regional and landscape scales. To rectify their deficiency, we present a framework to improve the understanding of forest bird trends in Hawai`i through an overarching monitoring design that allocates sampling at appropriate regional and temporal scales. 

Despite the limitations of the current monitoring effort, important generalities stand out vividly from the multiplicity of species-specific trends. Overall, in marginal habitats the Hawaiian passerine fauna continues to decline, with populations of most species shrinking in size and distribution. Since the early 1980s, 10 species that were rare at the time may now be extinct, although one, the `Alalā (Corvus hawaiiensis), survives in captivity. Dedicated search effort for the remaining nine species has been inadequate. Of the 22 species remaining, eight have declined, five appear to be stable, two are increasing, and the trend for seven species is unclear. On the bright side, native passerines, including endangered species, appear to be stable or increasing in areas with large tracts of native forest above 1,500 m elevation, even while decreasing in more fragmented or disturbed habitats, particularly at lower elevation. For example, all eight native species resident at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge have shown stable trends or significant increases in density over the long-term. Thus, native birds are ever more restricted to high-elevation forest and woodland refugia. It is these upland habitats that require sustained and all-out restoration to prevent further extinctions of Hawaiian forest birds.

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Title Population trends of native Hawaiian forest birds, 1976–2008: the data and statistical analyses
Series title Technical Report
Series number HCSU-TR012
Year Published 2009
Language English
Publisher University of Hawai'i at Hilo
Contributing office(s) Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center
Description 120 p.
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