Guam Kingfisher

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9/6/20

Guam Kingfisher

There are three subspecies of Guam kingfishers, on the Pacific Islands, two of which exist in the wild and the third, Todiramphus cinnamomina cinnamomina and the one we will focus on, exists only in zoos. Guam kingfishers, called sihek in the native language of Chamorro, are about the size of a robin, though their head and beak, like other kingfishers, is much larger. Male and female kingfishers are similar, though the females have pale white breast feathers and are slightly larger. They are also carnivorous. They hunt by perching on tree branches and diving down to grab a meal of insects, lizards, crabs, or shrimp. Guam kingfishers usually live alone or in pairs, though their social behavior is complicated. A male and a female will pair and then work together to defend their territory and build a nest, usually in a hole in a tree. Sometime between December and July the female will lay two eggs, and the male and female will defend the nest and bring food to the chicks together. Guam kingfishers live for about 12 years.

Why Are They Endangered?

The main reason that the Guam kingfisher is extinct in the wild is the brown tree snake. Historically, the island of Guam doesn’t have any big native snakes, allowing the kingfisher and other birds to live in peace. However, around the 1940s, the brown tree snake started appearing on the island. It is likely they came to Guam as stowaways on ships. Because they are not native, brown tree snakes have no natural predators on Guam and easily multiplied. These new snakes began to catching and eating Guam kingfishers and their eggs, and by the 1984 it had gotten bad enough that scientist decided that the only way for this kingfisher to survive would be taking them into captivity. 29 birds were captured, and by 1988 there were no wild birds left on Guam. There are about 145 of these tiny carnivores left in the wild. Other reasons for the Guam kingfisher's demise include destruction of habitats for houses and agriculture, and use of pesticides that contaminate the kingfisher’s prey. 

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Effects

The main reason that the Guam kingfisher is endangered is the brown tree snake. This snake also affects other small birds and animals on the island. Since before the brown tree snake sneaked onto the island there were no snakes large enough to be considered a predator to the Guam kingfisher and other small animals, they aren't adapted to stay away from the snakes or to have a defense. This not only affects the Guam kingfisher but all the other animals that are potential prey for the brown tree snake. 

What Can You Do?

Eventually, scientists would like to bring the Guam kingfisher back to an island near Guam. Unfortunately, it will most likely not be possible to bring these kingfishers back to Guam. This is because it will be difficult and arduous to get rid of all the brown tree snakes. With these snakes still on Guam, the kingfishers won’t have a hope of surviving. This is why scientists hope that they will be able to bring the Guam kingfisher to an island without tree snakes, such as Pohnpei or Rota, islands near Guam where a separate species of kingfisher is thriving. Returning the sihek to an island would show that it is possible to bring a species back from extinction, and hopefully provoke similar plans for other animals. If all goes well, the Guam kingfisher might hunt in the wild once again. 

sources cited

“Guam Kingfisher.” Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/guam-kingfisher. Accessed 24 August 2020

“Guam Kingfisher.” Aquarium of the Pacific. http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/onlinelearningcenter/species/guam_kingfisher. Accessed 24 August 2020.

“Guam Kingfisher.” St. Louis Zoo. https://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/birds/kingfishershornbillsbeeeat/guam-kingfisher. Accessed 24 August 2020.

“Flying Free Again: Experts Discuss Reintroduction of Guam Kingfisher 30 Years After Extinction in Wild.” Calgary Zoo. March 1 2019. https://www.calgaryzoo.com/blog/species-survival/flying-free-again-experts-discuss-reintroduction-of-guam-kingfisher-30-years-after-extinction-in-the-wild. Accessed September 4 2020

*all pictures and videos used with permission, and/or taken from the sites above.