A feral cat killed an endangered Hawaiian petrel chick at its burrow on Kauai just before it was about to fledge late last year — and it was all caught on camera.
State officials said the chick also happened to be one of three outfitted with satellite tags so researchers from the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project could track their post-fledging journeys to their first wintering grounds.
“It was heartbreaking to find this healthy chick torn apart by a cat,” said project coordinator André Raine in a news release, “especially when we saw the tracks of the other two birds that were satellite tagged, one of which has now flown more than 5,000 miles since it fledged and left its nest.”
The discovery was particularly heartrending, he said, because this chick was the largest of the three, and healthy. Fortunately, the other two made it out to sea, and are now heading west.
Predator control teams are now searching for the responsible cat, and keeping an eye out for others in the area.
The three petrel chicks were tagged in their burrows on Nov. 12 in a remote part of Hono o Na Pali Natural Area Reserve, according to Sheri S. Mann, Kauai branch manager for the state’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
Hawaiian petrels have no natural defenses against non-native feral cats, and are also prone to collisions with power lines. Their population is on the decline.
While much work has been done tracking petrel adults, and their feeding routes, researchers are just embarking on studies of where chicks go during winters as part of conservation efforts.
Besides these three chicks, only one other petrel chick had been tagged a few years ago, and it flew all the way to waters off of Guam.
Researchers suspected a problem when the chick’s tag showed it remained on land, and never headed out to sea. Upon arrival in late November of last year, they found the chick’s remains.
After reviewing footage from the burrow camera, researchers confirmed a cat was the culprit.
The feral cat entered the burrow, pulled the fully-grown chick out, and ate it. The cat was seen at five other burrows over a few days, and likely killed at least one other chick, according to researchers.
State officials say the recent killing is the latest example of why feral cats pose a threat to native wildlife.
“Kauai is a ‘Noah’s Ark’ for many endangered bird species,” said Raine in the news release. “Having feral cats loose on the landscape is not good for the cats, which risk disease and an untimely death, and it’s also terrible for our native wildlife. They target native seabirds across the island.”
Late last year, some 150 wedge-tailed shearwaters on Kauai’s south shore were killed by feral cats and off-leash dogs, according to Raine. Cats have also preyed on Hawaiian petrels and Newell’s shearwaters on Kauai’s mountains.
“It would have been nice to see that bird flying out to sea instead of in a mangled heap in front of its burrow,” said Raine.
The Hawaii Invasive Species Council says feral cats are widespread in all the main Hawaiian isles, and are the predators of various native, endangered birds. They also host a parasite that — when released into the environment through their feces — causes toxoplasmosis, a threat to Hawaiian monk seals.