Five years ago, Hawadax Island off the coast of Alaska was a playground for rodents.
Formerly known as “Rat Island,” the 10-square-mile site belonging to the Aleutian islands was “crisscrossed with rat trails, littered with rat scat, scavenged bird bones, it even smelled…wrong,” Stacey Buckelew, an Island Conservation biologist, said in a statement, adding that “it was an eerily silent place,” when she first arrived in 2007.
But after an aggressive eradication campaign in the fall of 2008 — which involved dumping buckets of rat poison from helicopters onto the island — colonies of seabirds are finally making a return after being wiped out by the invasive Norway rat.
Island Conservation, which was part of the recovery effort, has posted pictures of black oystercatchers hatching, a green-winged teal taking a dip, and puffins breeding on the island for the first time ever.
Hawadax wasn’t always infested with rats. The large rodents, which are found all over the world, were brought to the island in 1780 when a Japanese ship ran aground. The decline of bird species coincided with the arrival of the rats.
“The populations of the Norway rats ran amok, feasting on eggs and young chicks during the birds’ brief nesting season,” according to The Nature Conservancy, another organisation that participated in the removal of invasive rat.
By 2012 the island, which is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, was declared rat-free and its traditional Aleut name — Hawadax — was restored.
Many birds have made a strong comeback since the removal program. A survey conducted this summer found 28 glaucous-winged gull nests, compared to nine reported in 2008. There were no song sparrows recorded in 2007 and 2008 surveys, but this summer, “hardly 3 minutes would pass without hearing a sparrow,” said Buckelew.
Unfortunately, there are few photos that accurately show how the island looked before the rats were removed. Although there was a lack of birds to begin with, the photos taken at the start of the eradication campaign were shot during the fall when any birds that did remain would have already migrated, said Dustin Solberg from the Nature Conservancy.
The image below was taken in 2007 and shows chewed bird shells from the rats.
There are tons of recent images that show a remarkable amount of bird life on this island today. You can see the full set on Flickr, and see a sample below.
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