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Frequent use of upland habitats by the endangered Hawaiian stilt (Himantopus mexicanus knudseni)

December 1, 2019

The Hawaiian Stilt, or Ae’o (Himantopus mexicanus knudseni), is an endangered waterbird endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Loss of suitable wetland habitats due to anthropogenic development is a leading cause for decline, as well as the introduction of non-native predators and invasive wetland plants. This study fitted four Hawaiian Stilts with GPS satellite tags to document their use of wetland and surrounding habitats on Oahu Island. While other Hawaiian waterbirds are largely restricted to wetlands, we detected Hawaiian Stilts using heavily modified upland habitats, including developed areas, undeveloped fields, sports fields, as well as wetland habitats over a 6-month period. Overall, a high use of non-wetland habitat was observed (up to 58%), with significant differences in habitat occupancy among individual stilts and across different times of day. Wetlands were the dominant habitat occupied from morning to early afternoon, but non-wetland habitats were occupied at higher frequencies in the evening and early morning hours. Although only four birds were tracked, the extensive use of non-wetland habitat by these individuals indicates management of non-wetland habitats may be important for the conservation of this subspecies. However, more research is needed to understand how applicable these results are to other stilt popualtions across the Hawaiian Islands, and better understand the potential risks and benefits of these non-wetland habitats to stilt populations.