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      The Status of Cook Islands Birds - 1996

  By Gerald McCormack 



 Blue Lorikeet of Aitutaki

Klik for at forstørre/ Click to enlarge

 The last resident landbird of special international interest is the Blue Lorikeet (Kuramo‘o) on the almost-atoll of Aitutaki. American palaeobiologist David Steadman has fossil evidence from several islands to show that the indigenous lorikeet of the Southern Cooks was the Rimatara Lorikeet (Kura). Unfortunately, this species supplied the red feathers widely used by chiefs and in ceremonial headdresses, and excess harvesting was probably the main factor in its extirpation from the Cook Islands sometime prior to the arrival of European settlers in the 1820s.

The first mention of the Blue Lorikeet on Aitutaki was in 1899 when it was referred to as the pet of the natives. Presumably it arrived as a cage-bird in the early 1800s on one of the many sailing ships from French Polynesia, where the species was still widespread.

The Blue Lorikeet population has been surveyed several times in the last twelve years, although the lack of a standardised methodology has prevented realistic comparison of the results. The estimates of the total population typically ranging from about 750 to 1000 bird. The Natural Heritage Project developed a simplified technique for use by the students of the local high school. In March 1994 the students saw/heard 120 birds the first day, and 123 two days later - and extrapolated to a total population of 1200 birds.

The most interesting question about the Blue Lorikeet on Aitutaki is how does it survive in the presence of Ship Rat, when circumstantial evidence elsewhere indicates that the presence of the Ship Rat leads to a decline of lorikeets. In July 1993 New Zealander Kerry-Jane Wilson undertook a preliminary trapping on Aitutaki, and caught three Pacific Rat and one Housemouse. The Natural Heritage Project developed a standardised methodology and undertook an extensive survey in 1994: trapping 27 Pacific Rats and one mouse, but still no Ship Rats. More recent trappings continue to confirm the absence of Ship Rat. Aitutaki has had a busy port since the 1820s, so why the Ship Rat has not successfully colonised the island is a mystery - but good news for the Blue Lorikeet.

Other than the Ship Rat and habitat destruction, the other serious threat to indigenous landbirds on isolated islands is the introduction of an exotic avian disease for which local birds lack immunity. Fortunately, successive administrations in the Cook Islands have been very conservative on introducing exotic birds. Early this century the Common Myna was introduced to several islands to control the plague-prone Coconut Stick-insect, and while there have been no stick-insect plagues in recent times, the Myna itself has reached plague proportions, especially on Rarotonga. Although its aggressive behaviour has been blamed for the demise of indigenous landbirds on Rarotonga, none have actually been lost this century, and studies have shown that the Myna does not carry any pathogens likely to damage indigenous species. Nevertheless there remains a concern that harmful pathogens could be accidentally introduced by cage-birds, despite quarantining in the country of origin, typically New Zealand.

The present indigenous landbirds of the Cook Islands are those that survived the two massive environmental upheavals: the arrival of the Polynesians about 2,000 years ago, and the arrival of Europeans since the 1820s. However, provided the Ship Rat (and maybe the Myna) can be controlled, the prognosis for their continued survival is very good. The Natural Heritage Project continues to support standardised monitoring of all species of conservation concern. With adequate forewarning of any decline, and prompt action, it is hoped that all species of special national or international interest can be maintained in their present environments.


  Denne artikel er en del af / This article is a part of :   © All rights reserved 2007


    Gerald McCormack has worked for the Cook Islands Government since 1980. In 1990 he became the director and researcher for the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Project - a Trust since 1999. He is the lead developer of the Biodiversity Database, which is based on information from local and overseas experts, fieldwork and library research. He is an accomplished photographer

 Klik for at forstørre/ click to enlarge         2 adult birds in a banana palm tree  


 Klik for at forstørre/ Click to enlarge         Young blue lorikeet



 Video med/with Vini peruviana

 Lyt til / Listen to Vini peruviana


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