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Rescued ‘io beats the odds: Hawaii Wildlife Center releases endangered bird

Updated: 
August 4, 2017 - 1:00am

KAPAAU — An endangered io, Hawaiian hawk, was returned to the wild July 27 after six months of extensive rehabilitation following a severe wing injury in January.

The young female was found with a fractured wing by a concerned citizen who contacted the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW). They then found a local veterinary clinic to provide emergency care to stabilize the injured bird after which it was transferred to Hawaii Wildlife Center (HWC) in Kapaau.

The goal was to rehabilitate the io, giving it a second chance at life in the wild.

“Our initial concern was the location of the fracture and we questioned the likelihood of her regaining the ability to fly and survive in the wild,” said Samantha Christie, wildlife rehabilitation manager at HWC. “After a series of radiographs we were able to monitor the healing of the bone and do physical therapy to help it regain normal flight.”

The io demonstrated a tenacious fighting spirit and overcame all obstacles to return to the skies of Hawaii Island after six months in captivity. Housed in large raptor aviary at HWC, she could stretch her newly healed wing and exercise.

“We were able to monitor her activity thanks to a remote camera in the enclosure. This way we could minimize her contact with humans and still observe her progress,” Christie said.

The techniques were deemed successful as the io exhibited a healthy fear and distrust of her caretakers throughout her captivity.

“While I’m sure she appreciates the free mouse dinner, there’s no question of us being friends. This is a wild animal and she resists human contact and handling with all of her strength.”

The io was provided with a varied diet of mice, rats and birds, but took it upon herself to supplement her menu with something a bit more exciting.

“Each raptor that we treat is presented with live prey before they are released to ensure that they have retained the ability to hunt. Not only did this io pass mouse prey-testing with flying colors, she was also seen on camera catching and eating large centipedes on several occasions,” said Alexis Wessels, wildlife rehabilitation technician at HWC.

HWC consulted with experts, including John Klavitter from U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service (FWS) and others from DOFAW and wildlife vets across the county, for advice on the best timing and location for the ‘io’s release. Her flight, hunting skills, body condition, feathers and blood work were each evaluated to ensure that the young hunter was adequately prepared to return to a life in the wild. She was also banded by DOFAW before her release.

The tenacious ‘io flew quickly and easily upon release outside the HWC facility in Kapaau in late July, and came to rest in a nearby tree, taking in her new surroundings and showing great interest in the small birds arriving to investigate the newcomer. Then, with surprising stealth and confidence, she took off to resume her life as a wild bird.

Six months of hard work, collaboration and dedication led to the moment — a hard-fought success for an endangered species and a victory for Hawaii’s native wildlife.

“This follows our mission and vision of assisting in the recovery of our endangered native wildlife through comprehensive conservation strategies and partnerships,” said HWC President and Center Director Linda Elliott. “It takes a large group of people to do this and that’s what we’re here for.”

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