Guam Kingfishers

Saving Guam Kingfishers

Species Survival Plan logo

Guam Kingfishers, known locally as Sihek, have been Extinct in the Wild for four decades. They were decimated to the brink of total extinction on the island of Guam by the arrival of an invasive species, the Brown Tree Snake. Had it not been for biologists rescuing the remaining wild population in the late 1980s, bringing them into expert care, Guam Kingfishers might have been officially declared Extinct.

Since this incredible rescue, Guam Kingfisher populations under the expert care of an Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP), have grown considerably, all while maintain genetic diversity. The National Aviary has been part of this program, actively working within the SSP® and the Sihek Recovery Program, to eventually introduce the species to Palmyra Atoll, a Brown Tree Snake-free island located about 6,000 km (3,729 miles) from Guam, on a trial basis.

Sihek Recovery Program

Male Guam Kingfisher
Female Guam Kingfisher perched on a branch
Female Guam Kingfisher

This project, comprised of several Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA)-accredited zoos including the National Aviary, have the long-term goal of releasing and then growing a population in the wild , eventually seeing the Sihek’s International Union for Conservation in Nature (IUCN) status downgraded from “Extinct in the Wild” to “Critically Endangered” – which could make them only the third species ever to do so, behind the California Condor and the Guam Rail. Over the last decade, the Aviary has hatched 21 Guam Kingfisher chicks in our behind-the-scenes, state of the art Breeding Center, and sent 13 other facilities as part of the Species Survival Program®.

National Aviary Senior Aviculturist Brianna Crane plays a crucial role in this process. In addition to incubating fertile eggs in our Breeding Center that will hopefully hatch and join the program this year, Brianna has personally transported fertile Cincinnati Zoo Guam Kingfisher eggs and a chick to the Sihek Translocation Biosecurity Facility at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas. Every hatching is critical, as these birds holds the potential to be among the first Guam Kingfishers introduced into the wild on Palmyra Atoll. The process of introducing a species back into the wild is extremely intricate and complex, especially with challenges of a species on the brink of extinction.

A 2024 Timeline of Hatchings


Currently, there are only 141 Guam Kingfishers remaining in the world, all under expert care. National Aviary visitors can witness a pair of these magnificent birds, who are part of this program, in our public-facing habitat, Canary’s Call Presented by Dollar Bank.

Similar to woodpeckers, Guam Kingfishers are cavity nesters. The Aviary replicates this natural nesting behavior by providing nest boxes filled with materials, such as wood chips and leaves. The nest boxes are then sealed with cork, allowing our Guam Kingfishers to mimic the nest building process they would perform in the wild.

In early April 2024, two eggs were extracted from a specially designed nest box (similar to the one seen above) by National Aviary Senior Aviculturist, Brianna Crane. The eggs were laid in nest box in our public-facing habitat, Canary’s Call Presented by Dollar Bank. They were then carefully transferred to our state-of-the-art breeding center for incubation. Further genetic testing revealed that one of the eggs was viable! The egg was then monitored in our breeding center until its journey to the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas, as part of the Sihek Recovery Project. Despite best efforts, one of the fertile National Aviary Guam Kingfisher eggs did not have a successful hatch in the Sihek Translocation Biosecurity Facility at the Sedgwick County Zoo.


Sindålu: A Little Warrior

In May 2024, the Cincinnati Zoo brought another fertile egg to the National Aviary’s state-of-the-art Breeding Center to be in egg-hatching quarantine. The special little chick began to pip, and after 36 hours with the help of our dedicated staff, the chick finally made its arrival, and a DNA test determined it to be a BOY! Our staff was given the honor of choosing his name from a list submitted by people living in the Marianas Islands: Sindålu (sin-duh-loo), meaning warrior.

A few weeks after hatching, Senior Aviculturist, Brianna Crane made another trip to the Sedwick County Zoo with Sindålu. Did you know even Extinct in the Wild chicks need to go through TSA to fly?

Guam Kingfisher chick, safely in an incubator, meeting the caption of a Delta Airlines flight to Kansas City.
Meeting Delta Airlines caption
Guam Kingfisher chick, safely secured in an incubator, with its flight wings pin from Delta Airlines.
Chick receiving its flight wings
National Aviary Senior Aviculturist with Guam Kingfisher chick.
Brianna Crane with chick in Kansas City

The newest Guam Kingfisher chick to join the Sihek Recovery Project may not yet be heading to its ultimate destination Palmyra Atoll, but it has already earned frequent flier miles, thanks to a collaboration between two AZA-accredited zoos and Delta Air Lines. Pittsburgh International Airport’s TSA agents were extra careful with Sindålu’s incubator and he was securely fastened in his Delta Airlines seat. The entire flight crew was delighted to be part of this important conservation story. Sindålu has yet to fledge, but he took his first flight with the help of an expansive and excited team, even receiving a personalized set of pilot wings to commemorate the occasion.

Sindålu is now safely at the Sedgwick County Zoo, settled in, and doing well as he awaits his next destination. As of June 2024, he and Tutuhan (another chick part of this exciting project) fledged their nests!

Meet Långet and Mames

Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for takeoff: TWO more Guam Kingfisher chicks, known locally as sihek, recently hatched in the National Aviary’s Breeding Center in June 2024. The best part? These two chicks are the latest to join the collaborative Sihek Recovery Project.

Two chicks safely secured in incubator
Two chicks in incubator, awaiting boarding

At the end of June 2024, National Aviary Senior Aviculturist Brianna Crane once again “carried on” the duo (plus their incubator) into a Delta Air Lines flight, with an ultimate destination of the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas. Pittsburgh International Airport’s TSA agents were careful with their incubator. Once boarded, Bri securely strapped them into their seat.

These little chicks are now safely living in a Biosecurity Translocation Facility at the Sedgwick County Zoo – alongside other Guam Kingfisher chicks and juveniles including sindålu (meaning Little Warrior)!

As we wait for the new chicks to fledge, they were given a DNA test to determine sex. The first chick is a FEMALE named Långet, which means “heaven” or “sky” in CHamoru (the language of the Marianas Islands indigenous people). The second is a MALE named Mames, which means “sweet.”

Watch Their Journey

Stay tuned for these chicks’ next adventure, and a big thank you to all of our partners on this journey.

How We Track Success

Guam Kingfisher chick only a few days old
Two Guam Kingfisher chicks, 6 days old and 20 days old, 2023

The National Aviary not only works to grow the population for genetic diversity, we are one of only four institutions in the world who participated in a GPS-tracking study aimed at preparing the species for an eventual reintroduction into the wild. Tracking released birds with GPS technology will allow researchers to monitor their progress and determine the effectiveness of reintroduction efforts. As part of the study, some kingfishers at the National Aviary were temporarily equipped with telemetry devices to ensure they can fly, perch, hunt, and preen naturally (devices that would eventually fall off in the wild).

“Additionally, this kind of tracking information will provide insights into how the kingfishers use the available habitat—information that will help guide conservation and land management practices,” states National Aviary Senior Director of Animal Care and Conservation, Kurt Hundgen.

When this year’s chicks hopefully head to Palmyra Atoll later this year, they will be fitted with the telemetry devices studied at the Aviary!

What’s Next?

Stay tuned for more details about this ever-evolving story, with the hopes it will bring us one step closer to the day when Guam Kingfishers will thrive in the wild once again. When that happens, “Guam Kingfishers hatched at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh will play an important part in achieving that milestone” says Kurt Hundgen.

Experts are gently placing a GPS harness onto a male Guam Kingfisher.
Experts are gently placing a GPS harness onto a male Guam Kingfisher
Each harness is equipped with a fail-safe mechanism.
Each harness is equipped with a
fail-safe mechanism

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