Tuamotu Kingfisher (Todiramphus gambieri)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 0925809
The Tuamotu Kingfisher is confined to the island of Niau in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, where the sub species niauensis was represented by an estimated 400-600 birds in 1974, and reported as common in 1990; the second sub species gertrudaa having become extinct on Mangareva, Gambier Islands, probably prior to the 20th century. However, surveys in 2003 and 2004 estimated the total population to be significantly lower than previously supposed, with recent estimates suggesting that the total population was around 125 individuals. We think that the apparent decline in numbers may partly be due to double-counting of individuals in the 1990s, as recent mark-resighting studies have shown that the birds are more wide-ranging than originally realised. However there is still evidence of a range decline, with birds currently occupying just 2/3rds of their former range on Naiu. The low numbers and restriction to a single island, combined with loss of populations from other islands means that the Tuamotu Kingfisher is classed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN - ie that it would likely become extinct in the next 10-20 years if no conservation action was undertaken.
The removal of suitable nesting trees in 1984, following a hurricane in 1983, reduced the availability of nesting sites. Birds currently use holes in dead/dying coconut palms. We have managed to organise an agreement with the local palm growers to leave dead trees standing for a few years to provide nesting sites. This should provide additional nesting sites for a number of breeding pairs. We plan to monitor the success of this over the next few years.
Competition for food resources with rats and cats may pose a threat to the breeding success of this species. We are studying this by assessing the diet of rats and cats on the island to see whether, a) they predate eggs and chicks of kingfishers directly, or b) they compete for the same food sources as kingfishers and so reduce food availability sufficiently to impact on kingfisher productivity. We are working with the local community to establish a rat control programme within the coconut palms. A similar cat control programme is in abeyance as the local community are not yet prepared to undertake this step. We hope to monitor the effect of rat control and no cat control on productivity if funds allow over the next few years.
A recommendation to establish a second population of Tuamotu kingfisher is being investigated. A number of islands have been assessed for their suitability and final discussions are underway to determine which is most appropriate. The advantage of a second population is that it reduces the risk of extinction through natural disaster (such as cyclones) or the arrival of avian diseases on an island. To date we have captured, held in captivity and released individuals on Niau into new sites successfully, with the individuals adjusting readily to the new circumstances. This increases our confidence that an introduction to another island can be successfully achieved. Establishing a new population will represent the next stage of a successful conservation programme for this species, and also, potentially, for a number of other Critically Endangered species of Kingfisher in the region. If the people of Niau are in agreement with an introduction of their bird to another island then this would be the next major requirement for funds to improve the conservation status of the species.
We have developed strong partnerships with the local community on Niau, and have recently established a Site Support Group to provide improved local focus. Access to Niau is difficult and expensive so providing local capacity is a useful and cost-effective development. Posters and leaflets regarding the Kingfisher, for dissemination on the island have been developed and made available. In addition, a recent visit by staff from SOP Manu involved a workshop with the local school. This provided lots of opportunities for the school children to see exactly what the project team undertake, from how to follow and find radio tracked birds through collecting insects to how to identify and dissect rats.
SOP Manu, the Birdlife partner in French Polynesia, are very grateful for all the hard work that Dylan Kesler at University of Missouri and Eric Vidal at University of Marseilles and their colleagues have put into the conservation of this species. Their involvement has certainly helped to improve the chances of the Tuamotu Kingfisher being extant for the next generation and for generations after that.
Project 0925809 location - French Polynesia, Oceania