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Aerial counts for surface-nesting seabirds at Lehua Island and Moku Manu Islet and Ulupaʻu Crater, Oʻahu, in 2019

July 20, 2022

Among important seabird breeding sites in the main Hawaiian Islands, Lehua Island offshore Niʻihau and Moku Manu Islets offshore Oʻahu support diverse and abundant seabird breeding populations. Both offshore islands provide excellent nesting habitat for surface-nesting boobies (Sula spp.) and terns but, of the two, only Moku Manu supports relatively large breeding populations of Sooty Tern (Onychoprion fuscatus) and Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus). Additionally, Ulupaʻu Crater, near Moku Manu on Oʻahu, is one of only a few sites within the eight main Hawaiian islands and the only site on the main island of Oʻahu that supports a nesting population of Red-footed Boobies (Sula sula). Despite their importance for informing renewable offshore energy planning off Hawaiʻi, robust and accurate seabird population survey data exist and are available for some locations (Lehua; Raine and others, 2021), but at Moku Manu and Ulupa‘u Crater, recent information are not yet available (E. VanderWerf, written commun. 2021). In this study, we completed comprehensive aerial photographic counts at these three sites for six surface-nesting seabird species present during the 2019 breeding season: Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster), Red-footed Booby, Masked Booby (S. dactylatra), Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor), Sooty Tern, and Brown Noddy. We estimated 5,782, 102, and 1,446 nesting pairs of Red-footed Boobies at Lehua, Ulupaʻu Crater, and Moku Manu, respectively. At Lehua and Moku Manu, we estimated 692 and 65 nesting pairs of Brown Boobies, respectively. At Moku Manu, we estimated 95 nesting pairs of Masked Boobies, one of only three nesting locales for this species in the main Hawaiian Islands. Based on digital photograph counts of sampled areas and area-based extrapolation, we estimated 17,938 terns (mostly Sooty Tern with fewer Brown Noddy) on Moku Manu. We observed Great Frigatebirds roosting at the two island sites, but we did not detect any sign of nesting for this species. We found that inter-observer counts for behavioral classifications (nesting, roosting, unknown) ranged in precision (D=0.13–0.31), but generally, counts among photographs accounting for all seabird targets (D=0.10–0.22) and for boobies classified as nesting (D=0.13–0.18) were more precise than for roosting and unknown categories (D=0.13–0.31), indicating that at least some of the variation in count precision relates to differences in how independent counters identified behavioral classifications. The nesting population sizes (and number of terns present on Moku Manu) present during aerial counts likely are minimum estimates because individuals among these species can exhibit asynchronous nesting phenologies, and not all members of the nesting populations would be expected to be attending the sites when we surveyed. The results of these counts provide current and accurate abundance estimates for these species that can serve as benchmarks for future management and monitoring and as important components of population-level assessments aimed at quantifying seabird vulnerability to potential offshore wind energy development in the main Hawaiian Islands.

Publication Year 2022
Title Aerial counts for surface-nesting seabirds at Lehua Island and Moku Manu Islet and Ulupaʻu Crater, Oʻahu, in 2019
DOI 10.3133/dr1161
Authors Josh Adams, Emily C. Kelsey, Jennilyn Stenske, Jonathan J. Felis
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Data Report
Series Number 1161
Index ID dr1161
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center