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Kealia Pond is one of the largest natural wetlands in Hawai`i and occupies a natural basin along the south-central shoreline of Maui. Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1992 to preserve and enhance wetland habitat for endangered waterbirds, primarily Hawaiian Stilts and Hawaiian Coots, and to provide dependable habitat for migratory wetland birds and wildlife-dependent opportunities for the public. The refuge consists of a large open water pond, adjacent mudflats and shoreline vegetation, and several smaller ponds that were created in the 1970s for aquaculture projects. The large central pond varies in size seasonally, from as low as 40 hectares (100 acres) when water recedes in the hot, dry summer months, to about 182 hectares (450 acres) when water level rises during winter rains from November-March. Recent reconfiguration of the aquaculture ponds through a cooperative agreement with Ducks Unlimited resulted in repair and enhancement of 25 wetland acres and development of an additional water supply that will help provide consistent waterbird habitat. Most of the refuge consists of a single unit centered on the pond, but the 24-hectare (60-acre) Ma`alaea Flats area is separated from the rest of the refuge by a busy road.
Kealia Pond supports one of the largest concentrations of wetland birds in Hawai`i. It is an important breeding, feeding, and resting area for endangered Hawaiian Stilts and Hawaiian Coots, and the refuge was created to protect these two species in particular. During spring and summer when water levels recede, the refuge may harbor almost half the entire population of Hawaiian Stilts, with a maximum of 1079 individuals observed in July 2003. Hawaiian Coot numbers peak when water levels are higher, with a maximum of 614 birds observed in February 2001. The Hawaiian Duck or Koloa was reintroduced to Maui in the 1980s, but hybridization with feral Mallards has occurred and is a continuing problem. Most Koloa-like ducks at Kealia Pond are probably hybrids, but they can be difficult to distinguish. The endangered Hawaiian Common Moorhen is not currently found on Maui, but it once inhabited all of the main Hawaiian Islands. Recovery plans call for reintroduction of the species throughout its former range, and Kealia Pond is one of the leading sites for possible reintroduction. Kealia Pond also supports a variety of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl from August-April. Some species occur primarily during migration, but others are present throughout the winter months. Peak numbers of migrants observed from 1995-2004 include 253 Northern Pintails, 327 Northern Shovelers, 802 Pacific Golden Plovers, 61 Wandering Tattlers, 210 Ruddy Turnstones, and 171 Sanderlings. Black-crowned Night-herons are resident in large numbers, with up to 378 present simultaneously. Although not large by continental standards, these represent some of the largest concentrations of these species in the Pacific region. Over 30 additional species of migrants use the wetland on a regular basis, and numerous vagrants have appeared over the years, making Kealia Pond one of the top sites for wetland birding in Hawai`i.
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/02/2023.