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Mangrove finch chicks born in captivity successfully released

May 30, 2014

A newly-released mangrove finch with a transmitter to monitor its movements.

A newly-released mangrove finch with a tracking transmitter

 

The first 15 mangrove finch chicks hatched in captivity, who have been under the care of experts during the past four months, were released back into their natural habitat this week. The most recent population estimates for mangrove finches, whose habitat is restricted to a small area of mangrove forest on Isabela Island, is between 60 to 80 individuals. The addition of 15 finches represents hope for this endemic species threatened by the parasitic fly Philornis downsi, whose larvae feed on the blood of nestlings and cause a high mortality rate.

The Mangrove Finch Captive Rearing Program, which is administered by the Galapagos National Park, the Charles Darwin Foundation, and the San Diego Zoo Global, took place in three phases:

  1. collection of eggs from natural nests and subsequent artificial incubation in the laboratory; 
  2. transfer of finches to a protected aviary before being released; and
  3. release into the wild followed by close monitoring.

Once the first phase was completed with the hatching and survival of 15 chicks, they were transferred to the pre-release aviaries specially constructed for this purpose in the mangrove forest near their natural habitat. After they learned to search for food, the aviaries were opened and the birds were released.

The aviaries remained open for about a month for the finches to return to if needed. The birds frequently visited the aviaries in the first few days following the release, and then their visits gradually decreased. Each finch was fitted with a tiny transmitter prior to release to track their movements. The latest monitoring conducted by the team of experts in the field revealed that eight of the finches remain close to the mangrove forest, while others had dispersed outside their habitat.

The release of these finches marks the beginning of a project that is hoped to ward off extinction for this small population. The Philornis fly is currently being studied by scientists and technicians in order to find a means of eradicating it from the area. In the interim, we now have a way to significantly increase the number of chicks produced each year while methods for controlling the parasitic fly are developed. This is an important step for the conservation of mangrove finches and is the result of strong teamwork between all project partners and collaborators.

Details of the Species:

  • The mangrove finch (Camarhynchus heliobates) is the rarest of the 13 species of finches endemic to the Galapagos Islands.
  • Listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with an estimated population of 60-80 individuals, it is essential to carry out conservation management activities to prevent their extinction.
  • Historically distributed in the mangrove forests of Isabela and Fernandina Islands, the mangrove finch is now restricted to 30 hectares of mangroves on Isabela in the northwest of Playa Tortuga Negra and Caleta Black.

 

Translated with permission from the Galapagos National Park Directorate. Please contact Galapagos Conservancy with inquiries.

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