Mysterious Millerbird: Undercover Footage of Laysan's Little Songbirds

by Megan Dalton

Since intensive monitoring of the translocated Millerbird population on Laysan came to an end last fall, I've been wrapping up some office work which has included reviewing photos and videos from my two field seasons on-island.

Video clips of endangered Millerbirds and Laysan Finches obtained from a motion-activated trail camera were among my favorite things to revisit. Because of its ability to record footage in the absence of human observers, the trail cameras allowed us to capture some informative and amusing videos that I wanted to share with you.

Two important things to note: We were able to identify many individual Millerbirds on video by their unique color band combination. Also, in order to minimize disturbance to their nesting activity, trail cameras were set up near nests only after chicks had fledged.

A Closer Look at Millerbird Behavior

The first video is a short collection of clips showing Millerbirds singing, foraging, feeding fledglings, and collecting nest material. Toward the end, you will see a clip of a Millerbird ‘cannibalizing' its own nest.

Nest cannibalizing is when a breeding pair removes nesting material from a nest constructed during a previous nesting attempt and incorporates the material into a new nest. While this Millerbird behavior was known from past observations, it was exciting to capture on video.

A closer look at known Millerbird behavior. Video captured by Megan Dalton and edited by Greg Joder.

Caught in the Act! New Behaviors on Camera

The trail cameras caught a previously unknown behavior exhibited by both Millerbirds and Laysan Finches. We discovered that the territorial Millerbird pairs are not the only ones dismantling their previously constructed nests: Millerbirds from neighboring territories, and even Laysan Finches, were taking material from these nests too!

Also, it was not uncommon to see footage of neighboring Millerbirds perch on another pair's nest momentarily when the resident pair was absent and appear to examine it inquisitively, almost as if they were scrutinizing or admiring its construction.

A previously unknown behavior caught on camera. Video captured by Megan Dalton and edited by Greg Joder.

Humorous Moments

Among the many videos of Millerbirds and finches going about their usual business were some clips that made us laugh. The final video is a compilation of humorous and endearing moments that includes clumsy fledglings, finches nibbling on almost everything in sight, and a very enthusiastically sunbathing Millerbird.

Maybe it is because we worked so closely with these birds that they so easily amuse us, or perhaps it is because we had very limited entertainment options out on Laysan, but we hope you enjoy these clips as much as we did.

They provide a look at the personal lives of Laysan's new Millerbirds, a somewhat different perspective on a project that stands out as one of Hawaiʻi's outstanding bird conservation success stories.

Humorous moments. Video captured and edited by Megan Dalton.

A huge thanks to friend Greg Joder who lent me his computer and helped me with the video editing process.

Megan Dalton is from Salt Lake City, Utah, and has worked as an avian field biologist for several years on both the mainland and in Hawai'i. She just finished working on Midway Atoll, and is beginning another job studying Micronesian Megapodes in Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.