Guam – Guam’s territorial bird is more likely to be spotted in a classroom than in the wild but the Department of Agriculture has been working hard to keep the Ko’ko’ bird in existence in the hopes of one day introducing the bird back into the island’s wildlife population.
Four chicks were given their identification bands at the Department of Agriculture this week. The 30-day old Ko’ko’ birds are being raised for later release into the wild or to support the breeding population on Guam.
“After that first nest hatches we have 30 days that the chick stays with its parents, learn rail behavior learn how to feed what the food looks like how to forage for it,” Department of Agriculture Wildlife Biologist Laura Duenas explains. “Then at 30 days we pull them put a band on them that lets us know who they are in the future. Then take their weights just in case anything happens to them later on we know where they started at and then they’re placed in their own individual cage.”
Duenas oversees the breeding population of the Ko’ko’ bird, also known as the Guam Rail. She says it is a rare occasion to see four chicks survive to their day of independence.
“Normally we have one to two sometimes three birds chicks that we pull from a cage,” Duenas told PNC. “To have four all together they usually lay one to four eggs so this means every single egg was fertile and every single one hatched and made it to their 30 day mark.”
Now that these four chicks are in the their own cages Duenas says they will be monitored for a year before its determined whether the Ko’ko’ birds will be released in the wild, or kept at the Department of Agriculture for breeding.
“We just keep an eye on them. The best indicator if something is or isn’t wrong with them is if they touch their food or not and so as long as we make sure that they finish their diets that’s all that matters,” Duenas said.
Endemic to Guam, no Ko’ko’ birds have been known to be living in the wild since the 1980’s. Birds raised at the Department of Agriculture have been released to Rota and CoCo’s Island. Duenas says as many as 80 Ko’ko’ birds live on Rota currently and the population on CoCo’s Island has successfully reproduced reaching two generation. Duenas hopes Guam will be able to support a wild population of Ko’ko birds again sometime in the future but the island isn’t safe for the endangered bird at this time.
“What we need to do is find a way to if not eradicate at least control the brown tree snake population,” said Duenas. “Also stray cats and dogs, I know they go after some of the chickens that we see around here I can’t imagine what they would do if they catch a rail.”
The Department of Agriculture currently has 117 Ko’ko’ birds: six are tamed birds currently being used for educational purposes, three are over the age of ten and have been retired, and the rest are for breeding or later release into the wild.