Telespiza cantans


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Telespiza cantans
Species Authority: Wilson, 1890
Common Name(s):
English Laysan Finch
Telespyza cantans cantans Collar and Andrew (1988)

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable D2 ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2012-05-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Symes, A. & Butchart, S.
Contributor(s): Baker, H.C., Baker, P.E., Camp, R., Conant, S., Fretz, S., Morin, M., Reynolds, M. & VanderWerf, E.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Benstead, P., Derhé, M., Isherwood, I., Stattersfield, A., Stuart, T., Taylor, J., Khwaja, N.
This species is listed as Vulnerable owing to its very small range on a few tiny islands, where it is especially at risk from unpredictable climatic events.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Telespiza cantans is confined to Laysan in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (U.S.A.), as well as on two very tiny islands in the Hermes and Pearl Atoll, with around 30-50 birds, down from 772 in 1986 (Morin and Conant 2002), persisting from an introduction in 1967 (S. Conant in litt. 2007). On Midway Island, an introduced population succumbed to rats during the 1940s (Fisher and Baldwin 1946). In 1903, the introduction of rabbits to Laysan led to a serious decline in population size, but the species recovered rapidly after the rabbits were exterminated in 1923. The population numbered 1,000 individuals in 1928, c.5,000 in 1951 (Berger 1972), and apparently fluctuated between 5,000 and 20,000 over the period 1968-1990, with a mean of 11,044 (M. Morin in litt. 1999, 2003); this apparent fluctuation may be due, at least in part, to differing methods and seasons of censuses (Morin and Conant 1994). There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of Laysan Finch on Southeast Island, at Pearl and Hermes Reef, since the successful invasion of golden crown beard Verbesina encelioides, which provides sheltered nesting habitat and additional food. The negative impacts of Verbesina on seabirds, which become entangled in the plants when returning to nest sites, dictates however that it be removed from the atoll in spite of its apparent benefits for T. cantans (S. Conant in litt. 2003).

United States
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The species's population fluctuates widely, probably averaging around 5,000 birds. Carrying capacity for the species has been estimated at 10,000 individuals (M. Morin in litt. 2012), and so its population is best placed in the band 2,500-9,999 individuals. This equates to 1,667-6,666 mature individuals, rounded here to 1,500-7,000 mature individuals.
Population Trend: Stable

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: It is a primarily herbivorous omnivore (Berger 1972, Conant 1988), feeding on insects, flowers, fruits, stems, seedlings and roots (Morin and Conant 2002). It survived the defoliation of Laysan by introduced rabbits, apparently by feeding on bird eggs, persistent seeds and carrion (Berger 1972, M. Morin in litt. 1999, 2003). On Laysan Island it nests almost exclusively in bunchgrass Eragrostis variabilis, but on Pearl and Hermes Atoll where bunchgrass is uncommon, the introduced birds nest in other plants or in man-made debris that floats ashore (M. Morin in litt. 1999, 2003).

Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Today, the primary forces regulating this species's population are storms and drought, which can cause almost total nest failure (Morin 1992a). Global warming is a further cause for concern, given that the maximum altitude on Laysan is only 12 m and that, as well as predicted sea-level rises of 0.5-2.0 m by 2100, the frequency and severity of hurricanes and droughts are expected to increase as a consequence (McNeely et al. 1995, Moulton and Marshall 1996). In the past, invasive alien plants have reduced nesting habitat (Gagné 1988, Morin et al. 1997, M. Morin in litt. 1999, 2003). Additional potential threats include the accidental introduction of non-native plants, animals and diseases (M. Morin in litt. 1999, 2003). A population crash followed the first attempts at Verbesina eradication in the Pearl and Hermes Reef Atoll, although Verbesina is now recovering.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
Laysan is part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The alien grass Cenchrus echinatus is believed to have been eradicated (M. Morin in litt. 1999, 2003) and native bunchgrass is recovering in response (M. Reynolds in litt. 1999).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue monitoring on Laysan. Census the population on Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Ensure strict procedures to prevent the accidental introduction of exotic plants and animals by visitors. Eradicate exotic plants and invertebrates. Restore the indigenous plant community (M. Morin in litt. 1999, 2003). Establish two more wild populations (S. Conant in litt. 2007).

Citation: BirdLife International 2012. Telespiza cantans. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 01 September 2015.
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