Guam Kingfishers

Saving Guam Kingfishers

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 Project, 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 trail basis.

Sihek Recovery Project

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

This project, comprised of five 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®.

Nesting

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.

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.

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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