Weathering the Storm: Hurricane Iselle and Endangered Birds

Two palila eggs artificially incubated by the emergency generator during the storm hatched a few days after Iselle had passed, giving us two hurricane chicks, great news for this endangered bird!

When I found out that not just one, but two hurricanes were headed toward the Big Island of Hawaii, I became worried. Questions started running through my mind: “Are we going to lose power?” “How will the birds handle the hurricane?” During my time as an intern at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC), I had not been subject to particularly harsh weather conditions; in fact, the weather had been rather mild and consistent since I arrived! This was my first hurricane experience, and I had no idea what we would be in for.

Leading up to the hurricane, the entire team (staff and interns) worked diligently to prepare ourselves and the facility for the worst. On Thursday, August 7, we woke to news of Hurricane Iselle’s continued approach. Iselle was predicted to wreck havoc later that night, giving us one day to finish our preparations. I anticipated a busy and hectic day, and sure enough, it was nothing short of that. I worked quickly to finish my morning husbandry routine of feeding and observing the birds, cleaning the aviaries, and preparing the birds’ diets for the following day.

Immediately after finishing my routine, I joined the rest of the team to help make the facility as hurricane-proof as possible. I worked with a staff member, Lynne, to move seedlings of native plants indoors and flip over outdoor tables that the seedlings were normally kept on. I then joined the other three interns to move wood and other loose items from facility grounds into our workshop. We basically put away anything with the potential to be moved by impending winds.

Meanwhile, other staff members worked to make sure the alala (Hawaiian crow) would be safe. Since some of the alala aviaries are a bit older, they would be more prone to damage with heavy rain and harsh winds on the horizon, so we securely locked the birds into hack boxes within their aviaries. These aviary antechambers are more secure than the enclosures and would act as our hurricane safe-rooms. Alala are extinct in the wild, so no stone (or table!) was left unturned to protect them as we prepared for a number of scenarios.

Many of the roads to alala aviaries were flooded from Hurricane Iselle.

Many of the roads to alala aviaries were flooded from Hurricane Iselle.

Once the birds and the facility were prepared to endure the hurricane, it was time to do one final check of our own house, the “intern house.” We each quickly took a shower and filled our tubs with water, not knowing if or when we would lose power. If we lost power, we would lose water as well, because our house and the facility is on a rain catchment system powered by the electrical grid. We also tied down loose items on our lanai or moved the items indoors, and filled all water bottles in our house with drinking water. Then we all settled down in the living room and listened to the rain as the storm began to pick up.

The rain and wind grew in strength, and before we knew it, the power went out, and we sadly lost TV around 7 p.m., and so we were cut off from news reports about the hurricane. We grabbed candles and spent the hours with board games, playing Sorry! and Bananagrams while the storm whipped on. Around 10 p.m. we experienced the full force of the hurricane, with the rain hammering down on the roof and the sounds of limbs from trees crashing into our house. I fell asleep trying to imagine how all of the birds were reacting to this extreme weather and hoping for their safety.

The strong winds from Hurricane Iselle knocked over a number of trees and large branches, which thankfully did not hit any aviaries.

The strong winds from Hurricane Iselle knocked over a number of trees and large branches, which, thankfully, did not hit any aviaries.

The next morning we all woke up at 6 a.m. (although some of us didn’t get very much sleep!) and headed to work. Although Hurricane Iselle had passed, it was still raining heavily, and we did not have power or cell phone reception. The only source of power was our emergency generator, which was powering our incubation and hand-rearing rooms.

Another intern, Kaela, and I partnered with our manager, Bryce, to feed and check on each alala, as well as to assess the condition of each aviary. Ten minutes into our morning, the three of us were already drenched from head to toe, but we kept each other’s spirits up as we slogged through pouring rain and deep puddles while canvassing the facility.

Luckily, we found that all birds were safe and sound, including the nine new alala chicks that hatched this year. The alala and small forest bird aviaries also held up quite well. The only damage we encountered was a few missing mosquito screen panels that blew off during the hurricane and a number of trees and large branches that had been knocked down during the hurricane. Thankfully, none of the trees or branches hit any aviaries or buildings. It was a mess, but we were lucky.

Our incubation and hand-rearing rooms also held up just fine. In fact, two palila eggs artificially incubated by the emergency generator during the storm hatched a few days after Iselle had passed, giving us two hurricane chicks, great news for this endangered bird!

In the end, we were very lucky that our birds, colleagues, and facility made it through Hurricane Iselle relatively unscathed. Our sister facility on Maui also suffered some minor damage to buildings, but these were also quickly repaired soon after Iselle passed. Though we were ready for it, Hurricane Julio moved north of the islands and didn’t affect us at all. My first hurricane experience was intense, and I hope I won’t have to go through another again. But if I do, I know now how to weather the next storm!

Margaret Tanner is an intern at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center.

6 Responses to Weathering the Storm: Hurricane Iselle and Endangered Birds

  1. thank you for sharing the story. that must have been nerve-wracking to prepare for a hurricane with endangered birds. glad that it was mainly uneventful.

  2. Wow! Sounds like those birds are in the hands of a good group of dedicated people. Great blog, thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Wow! What an eventful night! I’m glad all the birds (and interns) survived. You should name the hurricane chicks Iselle and Julio :)

  4. What an amazing experience! Glad you and the birds were safe! Your planning and hard work definitely paid off.

  5. What an amazing experience! I’m glad you and the birds made it through safely! Your planning and hard work definitely paid off.

  6. You only had Sorry and Bananagrams to play with? That’s terrible! But good job saving the birds. They were lucky to have such a caring team to watch out for them.

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