The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Friday, January 7, 2011

Birds of Wake

Wake Island Rail
Status: Critically endangered.

Prior to World War II, the Wake Island Rail, a species of flightless bird found only on the islands of Wake and Willes, though not on Peale, was unknown outside of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Numbers of these only native bird to Wake are nonexistent before ecologists visited the island in the 1950s. The species struggled through the Japanese invasion and occupation; their curious nature making them easy to catch. They almost did not survive the American recapture of the island in 1943, with much of their habitat destroyed, along with that year’s nests and breeding pairs. In 1957, only seven breeding pairs were discovered on the island, out of a total of seventeen known birds. In a publicity move, the joint Navy-Air force custodians of the island adopted the bird as the base’s mascot. Construction of an expanded airfield on Wake forced the relocation of the surviving birds to Willes Island, where Naval, Air Force and Interior Department personnel began a captive breeding of the bird. By 1977, the numbers have risen to thirty breeding pairs, which ended the captive breeding program. Despite the unintentional introduction of rats to the islands, the Rail has made a slight come back, topping out with one hundred three breeding pairs by 2011, with a few of the birds finding their way back to Wake. Willes continues to be off limits to unauthorized personnel, and the species is still at risk of extinction by rats or even a rouge tsunami.

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