State to raise awareness, protection for indigenous duck species

Koloa maoli, an indigenous duck species
Koloa maoli, an indigenous duck species

Most people are aware of the nene goose, Hawaii’s state bird, but did you know the state also has an indigenous duck?

The koloa duck can be found on Kauai and Niihau, but its numbers are dwindling.

Even wildlife biologists have a tough time telling the difference between the endangered koloa maoli and the common mallard. Cross-breeding or hybridization between the two species is the primary reason the endemic koloa is endangered, officials said.

To address the koloa’s future, the Dept. of Land and Natural Resources is collaborating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Hawaii Pacific Studies Cooperative Unit on The Koloa Project. The project attempts to provide steps that will ensure its ultimate survival as one of three remaining native waterfowl species in Hawaii.

“(We’ll) probably improve the habitat for the koloa duck, and try and reduce the interaction between the mallards and the koloas so we can recover the koloa to its former numbers,” said DLNR coordinator Stephen Turnbull.

One component of DLNR’s program to save the koloa is research to better identify the extent of the duck’s range on individual islands and determine how many native ducks remain versus hybridized ones. It’s believed fewer than 3,000 true koloa remain in the wild.

“We do know, for example, that the degree of hybridization on Kauai is very low, and we suspect that there may be small remnant populations of koloa on the other main Hawaiian Islands,” said William Aila Jr., DLNR chair. “The other component is to raise public awareness to a level similar or exceeding awareness of the Hawaiian nene. It is especially important to remind people who have ‘barnyard’ ducks not to release them into the wild.”

A koloa duck that was found injured on Kauai and nursed back to health now lives at Honolulu Zoo.

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic. There aren’t many places in the world where you can see a koloa duck,” said bird curator James Breeden. “We are one of the few that have them, so this is a great place to come and see her.”

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