The U.S. Department of the Interior issued a report a few years back called 'The State of Birds of the United States of America 2009', which says that one-third of the endangered birds in the United States are native to Hawaii. The endangered species list contains 31 bird species indigenous to the Hawaiian islands, which is a number higher than anywhere else in the US.
The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology was one of the sponsors of the study. According to John Fitzpatrick, the director of the lab, "That is the epicenter of extinctions and near-extinctions. Hawaii is a borderline ecological disaster."
Researchers believe that predators and loss of habitat are the two biggest contributors to the problem. Another problem is the dwindling food sources. Mamane trees, whose seed pods are the favorite food of palila birds, are being killed in large numbers by disease, and also by feral sheep, goats, and pigs, which ruin the trees by grazing on their bark and tender shoots.
Palila birds, which are yellow songbirds that make their homes on the upper hills of Mauna Kea, used to number nearly 7,000 in population in 2002. By 2008, their population dropped by over 60%, to just 2,200. The Fish and Wildlife Service is making plans to restore the habitat of the yellow birds by fencing off an area and dedicating it as their habitat, removing sheep to give the songbirds a specific are where their population can flourish and begin to recuperate.
Habitat restoration strategies have been successful in the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, where builders have installed fences, relocated feral pigs, removed invasive vegetation species, and planted ohia and koa trees, and favored foods of native birds in that area. The restored habitats will be helpful in regenerating the populations of all endangered birds that share the same ecosystem in Hawaii's forests. The Interior Department's report notes that the populations of the akia polaau bird and the Hawaii creeper have undergone dramatic increases in number since the habitat restoration projects began. However, the report notes that the success of these measures points to the fact that they are urgently needed in other areas of Hawaii.
According to Scott Fetz of Hawaii's Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the restoration efforts being made can help bring back all the Hawaiian species currently on the endangered list, except for animals that have already been named as being extinct. The only problem that lies in the way is a basic lack of funding to accomplish the restoration initiatives. He added that pending legislation being deliberated in Congress could provide funding for rebuilding forests, while another could help the state find ways to deal with climate change. The warmer temperatures in recent years have allowed mosquitoes to spread into habitats located at higher elevations, such as those where the palila birds and other forest birds live. Mosquitoes bring disease with them, which is also something that is threatening the bird populations.
Fetz believes that if the wildlife program had a lot more funding, they would be able to bring back most of the endangered species.