The Kivi Kuaka project wishes to study the behavior of birds in the face of environmental disasters such as cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis. For this, one hypothesis is that long-distance migratory birds are particularly sensitive to infrasound, because the evolution of their migration strategy has required adaptation to extreme conditions. We have therefore selected species whose migrations or oceanic journeys override the geographical areas where cyclones and strong earthquakes most frequently occur. We selected five species for the first phase of beacon deployment: the Bristle-thighed Curlew (Kivi in Polynesian), the Bar-tailed Godwit (Kuaka in Maori), the Pacific Golden Plover, the Wandering Tattler and the Sooty Tern.
The scientific name of this curlew is Numenius tahitiensis, because if it nests only in the inaccessible tundras of Alaska, it winters on islands across the central Pacific (from Hawaii to Polynesia), and was first observed and described from Tahiti. Young birds stay almost three full years in the adult wintering areas, before returning to breed for the first time. This residence makes that curlew an excellent model for hoping to observe a behavioral response to cyclones and tsunamis. The Bristle-thighed Curlew seems very sensitive to predation by feral and domestic mammals (dogs, cats) on atolls, which explains its rapid decline and low population size, estimated at a world total of 10,000 individuals in 2003. Recent counts carried out in Tuamotu suggest a decrease of more than 50% during the 2000s, and if only 5,000 individuals remain in the world, this species should certainly be red-listed as Endangered to extinction by the IUCN. We plan to capture curlews in French Polynesia in winter and in Alaska in summer.
The Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica breeds in arctic and nearctic tundras. The Alaskan breeding populations undergoes an extraordinary migration to reach New Zealand where they spend the winter, by a non-stop flight of more than 10,000 kilometers. Along the way, godwits adapt their flight to weather conditions, especially when their trajectories cross those of strong storms and cyclones. The spring return migration to Alaska takes place in two steps, with a first bout to reach Southeast Asia to make a refueling stopover in the Yellow Sea, where environmental conditions are deteriorating. The next step brings the godwits to Alaska, by migrating again over the ocean. If the winter plumage is gray, breeding adults display an original brick-red body. We are planning to capture bar-tailed godwits in winter in New Zealand.
Pacific Golden Plover
As a close relative of the European Golden Plover and the American Golden Plover, the Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva breeds in Siberia and western Alaska. Populations nesting near the Bering Strait winter in the central Pacific, from Polynesia to Australia. Birds wintering in Moorea make a stopover in Japan during the spring migration, before returning to their breeding grounds. On the wintering grounds, this plover frequents areas of low vegetation near the sea, sometimes even roadsides or sport fields in inhabited areas. If its winter plumage is unobvious, it acquires a contrasting breeding plumage, black, white and gold, of an unusual elegance. We will capture plovers in Polynesia, New Caledonia and Alaska.
As a small coastal wader, the Wandering Tattler Tringa incana frequents rocky coastlines throughout the year. It breeds in western North America, and winters on Pacific Islands. Its plumage remains gray all year round, only its legs are colored, yellow. It appears territorial even in winter, and its coastal habits make it an excellent model for studying its movements in the face of incoming submersive waves. Its winter ecology and migration strategy are not yet known, as its weight (between 90 and 120 grams) did not allow previous use of on-board technologies. The Kivi Kuaka program is therefore the first to deploy GPS beacons on this species, which will shed new light on the ecology of this species. It seems that the Wandering Tattler is in sharp decline on its wintering grounds, so tracking will also help to identify the factors that could explain this trend. We will capture tattlers in Polynesia, New Caledonia and Alaska.
The Sooty Tern
The Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus is a tropical seabird inhabiting in all warm oceans, which forms sometimes huge colonies on uninhabited flat islets. Its reproduction is therefore particularly vulnerable to submersive events. It forages offshore for fish, and remains in the open sea outside the breeding season, and must therefore be used to managing a changing, sometimes hostile, wind environment. Acquiring knowledge about the feeding areas of these terns will help anticipate the impacts of climate change on their oceanic food resources. We will capture sooty terns on large Polynesian and Caledonian colonies. In the Tuamotu, the first expedition counted 7,250 pairs on Tekokota atoll.
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