Notes on the Avifauna of Ebon Atoll, Marshall Islands
by Dirk HR Spennemann & Hemley Benjamin




A field survey of Ebon Atoll, which was conducted from 17-22 June 1992 as part of a legally mandated investigation by the R.M.I. Historic Preservation Officeto survey the airport of the then propsed airport for sites of cultural or historical interest. This report summarizes the observations on the avifauna made during that survey, as Ebon Atoll at the time still rather inaccessible for short term visits and human disturbance of some areas was limited. Because the construction of the airport this was likely to change which is anticipated to bring about cultural and environmental change affecting the state of the islands of the atoll, and thereby the state and composition of the bird population.



Geographical Background

The Marshall Islands (Aelon Kein Ad), comprising 29 atolls and 5 islands, are located in the north-west equatorial Pacific, about 3790km west of Honolulu, about 2700km north of Fiji and 1500km east of Pohnpei. The atolls of the Marshall Islands, comprising well over 1200 islands and islets, are scattered about in an ocean area of well over 600,000 square miles. The combined ocean area encompassed in the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone is well over 1.5 Million square miles. By contrast, the total enclosed lagoonal area of the 28 atolls is only slightly more than 4,500 square miles, while the total combined land area of the atolls is as little as 70 square miles.

With the exception of the two northwestern atolls, Enewetak and Ujelang, the Marshall Islands are arranged in two island chains running roughly NNW to SSE: the western Ralik Chain and the eastern Ratak Chain. Not counting the five islands, Jemo, Jabwat, Kili, Lib and Mejit, the atolls of the Marshall Islands range from very small, with less than 3.5km2, such as Nadikdik (Knox) Atoll to very large. With 2,173km2 lagoonal area, Kwajalein Atoll has the distinction to be the atoll with the World's largest lagoon.

Ebon Atoll is located in the Ralik Chain at 4deg.38' North and 168deg.40' East comprises of 22 islets with a combined land area of 5.75 km2 which makes it the 14th largest atoll in the Marshall Islands (not counting Eneen-Kio). The atoll encloses a lagoon area of 103.83 km2 which is the 20th largest atoll in the Marshall Islands (not counting Eneen-Kio). Ebon had (in 1988) a population of 741 people, who lived in 90 households. Of these households 76.7% grow some food for their own consumption, 71.1% engaged in fishing to some degree and 40.0% kept livestock, mainly chicken and a few pigs. Of the households on the Atoll 87.8% made copra and 42.2% made handicraft for sale in the handicraft co-operative outlets on the urban atolls of Majuro and Kwajalein (Data taken from Census 1988; OPS 1989b). Based on these data, as well as on data on infrastructure and western-style amenities, Ebon can be considered as the most "traditional", within the local, Marshallese, framework of assessment.



The avifauna of the Marshall Islands

A number of ornithological studies has been conducted in the Marshall Islands and surrounding waters (Amerson 1969; Baker 1951; Clapp 1988; Fosberg 1966; Marshall 1950; Pratt et al. 1987). The Marshall Islands are located at the western end of the Micronesian chain of islands (Marianas-Carolines-Marshalls) and at the northern perimeter of the Central Pacific chain (Marshalls-Kiribati-Tuvalu-Fiji).

It has been found that, with the exception of the now extinct Wake Island rail (Rallus wakensis, Bryan 1959), a now extinct rail or crake on Bokak (Spennemann in press), the now very rare or extinct fruit doves (Pilinopus porphyraceaus Hernsheimi) and an extinct, undocumented, but traditionally recorded small land dwelling bird (the annan, possibly a crake, Krämer & Nevermann 1938) all birds of the Marshall Islands are either sea- or shore birds or are migrants who reside temporarily on the atolls, such as the Long-tailed New Zealand cuckoo (Urodynamis taitensis).

European colonisation has brought about the introduction of some resident breeders, such as house sparrows (Passer domesticus), Indian Mynah (Acridotheres tristis), European pigeon (Columba livia), as well as domestic chicken, ducks, geese and turkeys.



Previous Observations on Ebon Atoll

Amerson (1969:205) compiled everything known about the avifauna of Ebon Atoll. Using an array of published sources he listed three species for Ebon Atoll and classified their status.

Gallus gallus, PHASIANIDAE

Common name: Domestic Chicken; Status: Introduced breeder?

Anous tenuirostris, LARIDAE

Common name: Black Noddy; Status: Introduced breeder?

Ptilinopus porphyracaeus hernsheimi; COLUMBIDAE

Common name: Grimson-crowned Fruit Dove; Status: Extinct?

According to Amerson's assessment, no species were known to breed on the atoll.



Birds seen in 1992

The observations of the avifauna on occasion of the 1992 field trip, much more numerous than those listed by Amerson, can be split into two categories: those birds actually seen, and those birds reported by Ebon residents to be present on the atoll. The veracity of the latter comments appears to be high because questioning for a number of birds more common in the central atolls, such as the brown noddy (Anous stolidus; Marshallese name:Pejwak) was met with firm negative answers.

Anous tenurostris; LARIDAE.

Common name: Black noddy; Marshallese Name: Jekad (Jõkar) (Abo et al.) Jekad (Krämer) dscheggar (Finsch); Status in the Marshall Islands: resident breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Seen; Status on Ebon: resident breeder; Frequency on Ebon: abundant.

Arenaria interpres; SCOLOPACIDAE.

Common name: Ruddy turnstone; Marshallese Name: Kõtkõt (Abo et al.) Kõtkõt, Nakdik (Ralik), Aerãr Ralik), Wüla (Ratak), Na (Ratak) (Krämer); Status in the Marshall Islands: resident breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Seen; Status on Ebon: resident breeder; Frequency on Ebon: frequent.

Columba livia; COLUMBIDAE.

Common name: Rock (Domestic) dove; Marshallese Name: Jokud (Krämer); Status in the Marshall Islands: introduced resident; Type of observation on Ebon: Seen; Status on Ebon: introduced resident; Frequency on Ebon: rare.

Comments: A pair of European Pigeons was imported in 1991 by one of the two irooj (chiefs) of the atoll from neighbouring Jaluit Atoll ( 95km NE). The pigeons on Jaluit are descendants from stock introduced in German times (1885-1914). The plumage of the observed birds was grey-black with brown and white wings.

Egretta sacra; ARDEIDAE.

Common name: Reef Heron; Marshallese Name: General term: kabaj,; white colour phase: keke, grey phase melmela, mottled [black-spotted] phase: Kekebuona(Abo et al.); Kabaj /gai(Krämer); Status in the Marshall Islands: resident breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Seen; Status on Ebon: resident breeder; Frequency on Ebon: frequent.

Comments: Three reef herons were seen foraging on the ocean side of Ebon Island. One with white, one with grey and one with mottled plumage.

Gallus gallus; PHASIANIDAE.

Common name: Domestic Chicken; Marshallese Name: Bao (General); Kako,(male), Likmaan (male Ailinglaplap Atoll only), Lolo (female:; Abo et al.) Kako, lalo (Ralik); Lala (Ratak, Krämer); Small chicken: juju, kear (kuun, kuunin Ailinglaplap Atoll only), . Status in the Marshall Islands: resident breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Seen; Status on Ebon: resident breeder; Frequency on Ebon: abundant.

Gygis alba; LARIDAE.

Common name: White Tern; Marshallese Name: Mejo (Abo et al.;Krämer); Status in the Marshall Islands: resident breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Seen; Status on Ebon: resident breeder (?); Frequency on Ebon: abundant.

Sterna sumatrana; LARIDAE.

Common name: Black-naped Tern; Marshallese Name: Keãr (Abo et al.; Krämer); Status in the Marshall Islands: resident breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Seen; Status on Ebon: resident breeder; Frequency on Ebon: frequent.

Sula leucogaster; SULIDAE.

Common name: Brown Booby; Marshallese Name: Kalo (Abo et al.; Krämer); Status in the Marshall Islands: resident breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Seen; Status on Ebon: resident breeder; Frequency on Ebon: rare.

Comments: A tame juvenile bown booby was seen on Ebon Island. Today, as well as in the past, catching of nestlings and keeping of juvenile birds as pets is a common occurrence throughout the Marshall Islands. While brown boobys are common as pets, so are egrets and frigate birds. Booby's are caught and specifically kept as fighting birds.



Birds reported to occur on Ebon in 1992

Fregata ariel; FREGATIDAE.

Common name: Lesser Frigatebird; Marshallese Name: Ak, Toorlõn (Abo et al.) Ak (Krämer); Status in the Marshall Islands: resident breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Reported; Status on Ebon: Migrant; Frequency on Ebon: rare.

Fregata minor; FREGATIDAE.

Common name: Great Frigatebird; Marshallese Name: Ak, Toorlõn (Abo et al.) Ak (Krämer); Status in the Marshall Islands: resident breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Reported; Status on Ebon: Migrant rare.

Gallus gallus; PHASIANIDAE.

Common name: Jungle fowl (feral); Marshallese Name: Mãnnimar; Status in the Marshall Islands: resident breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Reported; Status on Ebon: resident breeder; Frequency on Ebon: rare.

Limosa lapponica; SCOLOPACIDAE.

Common name: Bar-tailed Godwit; Marshallese Name: Kolej (Abo et al.); Status in the Marshall Islands: resident breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Reported; Status on Ebon: resident breeder; Frequency on Ebon: rare.


The historical record

The historical record shows that in addition to these bird species, at one time or the other also the following species were present:

Anas anas, ANATIDE

Common name: Domestic duck; Marshallese name: rañ (Abo et al.) rak (Krämer); Status in the Marshall Islands: introduced breeder; Type of observation on Ebon: Historical 1870s; Status on Ebon: introduced breeder; Frequency on Ebon: no longer kept. Source: Kubary quoted in Krämer & Nevermann 1938:29.

Given that American missionaries operated a mission on Ebon since 1857, and given the American penchant for a "proper" Thanksgiving dinners, it is very likely that breeding populations of turkeys were at one point also introduced not only to Arno but also to Ebon. The introduction of European strains of chicken has been documented for 1857, the time of the initial settlement of Protestant missionaries on Ebon (Warren 1860:191).




The avifauna of Ebon Atoll, the southernmost atoll of the Republic of the Marshall Islands has been reviewed, using both historical and modern records and sightings. The species variety is found to be far greater than so far reported.



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Baker, R.H., 1951, The avifauna of Micronesia, its origin, evolution and distribution. University of Kansas Publications Museum of Natural History 3(1), 1-359.

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Berger, A.J., 1987b, Birds of Enewetak Atoll. In: Devaney, D.N., E.S.Reese, B.L.Burch & P.Helfrich, The Natural History of Enewetak Atoll. Volume II. Biogeography and Systematics. Oak Ridge, Ten.: U.S.Department of Energy, Office of Scientific and Technical Information. Pp. 331-332.

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Finsch, O., 1893, Ethnographische Erfahrungen und Belegstücke aus der Südsee. Annalen des K. & K. Naturhistorischen Hofmuseums 7. Vienna: K. & K. Naturhistorisches Hofmuseum.

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Checklist of birds reported for Ebon Atoll on the background of all species known to occur in the Marshall Islands. Given are scientific names, family, common (English) names and local names. Birds are shown as tickmarks. The birds have been listed in alphabetic, rather in taxonomic order (nomenclature after Pratt et al. 1987). The total table has been compiled from the following sources: Abo et al. 1976; Amerson 1969; Berger 1987a; 1987b; Bryan 1957; Erdland 1906; 1914; Fosberg 1966; 1990; Krämer & Nevermann 1938; Marshall 1950; Pratt et al 1987; Thomas et al.. 1989; as well as from own unpublished field observations. Status: A - Accidental; IC - Imported Captive; IR - Imported (European times) resident; M - Migratory breeder; R - Resident; S - Straggler; V - Visitor (Passage migrants and vagrants); W - Winter resident; X - Extinct; ; Frequency: A - Abundant; F -Frequent; O - Occasional; R - Rare; X - Extinct.

Scientific NameFamilyCommon (English) Marshallese NameStatus
in M.I.
on Ebon
on Ebon
on Ebon
Acridotheres tristisSturnidaeIndian Myna  IR     
Actitis maculariaScolopacidaeSpotted Sandpiper  S     
Anas acutaAnatidaeNorthern PintailRonanpat iar     
Anas anasAnatidaeDuckRan [Jekak] iB1870sxx
Anas clypeataAnatidaeNorthern Shoveler [Ronanpat] a     
Anas creccaAnatidaeCommon Teal  a     
Anas ganter ??AnatidaeGoose (Domestic)  a     
Anas penelopeAnatidaeEuropean Widgeon   a     
Anas platyrhynchosAnatidaeMallardRonanpat a     
Anas querquedulaAnatidaeGargarey  w     
Anas streperaAnatidaeGadwall  V     
Anatidae sp.AnatidaeDuck sp. [Rak, Drak, Djekak] IB     
Anous stolidusLaridaeBrown noddyPejwak [Rabit] rb     
Anous tenurostris (A. minutus)LaridaeBlack noddyJekad, Jökar rb1992rba
Arenaria interpresScolopacidaeRuddy turnstoneKötköt [Kötköt, Nakdik (Ralik), Aerar Ralik), Wüla (Ratak), Na (Ratak) rb1992rbf
Asio flammeusStrigidaeShort-eared owllijemao, mao V     
Aythya fuligulaAnatidaeTufted Duck  V     
Aythya valisineriaAnatidaeCanvasback  W     
Branta canadensisAnatidaeCanada gooseKalo V     
Bulweria bulweriiProcellaridaeBulwer’s Petrel  A     
Cairina moschataAnatidaeMuscovy Duck  A     
Catharacta skuaLaridaeGreat Skua  A     
Chalidria (Crocethia) albaScolopacidaeSanderlingKwöl [Kwöl ]m     
Chalidria (Erolia) acuminataScolopacidaeSharp-tailed Sandpiper  m     
Chalidria (Erolia) melanotosScolopacidaePectoral Sandpiper  m     
Chalidris alpinaScolopacidaeDunlin  m     
Chalidris pusillaScolopacidaeSemi-palmated StintKwöl [Gallang ]A     
Chalidris ruficollisScolopacidaeRufous-necked StintKwöl M     
Charadrius dubiusCharadridaeRing-necked Plover  V     
Charadrius mongolusCharadridaeMongolian Plover [Poled ]V     
Charadrius semipalmatusCharadridaeSemipalmated Plover [Mirleb ]S     
Chen caerulescensAnatidaeSnow Goose  S     
Columba liviaColumbidaeRock (Domestic) dove [Jokud ]IR1992IRr
Diomedia immutabilisDiomedidaeLaysan AlbatrossLe v     
Diomedia nigripesDiomedidaeBlack-footed AlbatrossLe v     
Ducula oceanicaColumbidaeMicronesian PigeonMule [Mule ]rb     
Ducula pacifica ratakensisColumbidaePacific fruit pigeon [Mule ]rb     
Egretta sacraArdeidaeReef HeronKabaj [Kabaj,Gai ]rb1992rbf
Fregata arielFregatidaeLesser FrigatebirdAk, Toorlön [Ak ]rbReported   
Fregata minorFregatidaeGreat FrigatebirdAk, Toorlön [Ak ]rbReported   
Gallicolumba erythropteraColumbidaeGround Dove  rb     
Gallicolumba stairiColumbidaeFriendly Ground Dove  rb     
Gallinago (Capella) hardwickiiScolopacidaeJapanese Snipe  a     
Gallus gallusPhasianidaeChickenGen: bao; ¹Kako; ėLolo. [Kako, Lalo, Lolo ]rb1992rbr
Gallus gallusPhasianidaeJungle fowl (feral)Mannimar rbReportedrbr
Gygis albaLaridaeWhite TernMejo [Mejo ]rb1992rba
Heteroscelus brevipesScolopacidaePolynesian Tattler  M     
Heteroscelus incanusScolopacidaeWandering tattlerKidid [Kidid, K¶tk¶t; Giri (Finsch) ]M     
Himantopus sp.RecurvorostridaeStilt sp.  V     
Larus articillaLaridaeLaughing seagullMannimuuj (?) [Meni mar ]R     
Larus pipixpanLaridaeFranklin's gull jouj V     
Limosa lapponicaScolopacidaeBar-tailed GodwitKolej RBReportedRBR
Nesofregetta fuliginosa (albigularis)HydrobatidaeWhite-throated Storm Petrel [Lijemao ]v     
Numenius phaeopusScolopacidaeWhimbrelKowak [Kowak (Goak) ]w     
Numenius tahitiensisScolopacidaeBristle-thighed curlewKökkök [Kökkök ]w     
Oceanodroma lecorhoaHydrobatidaeLeach’s Storm Petrel  v     
Passer domesticusSturnidaeHouse Sparrow  ib     
Phaethon aethereusPhaetonidaeRed billed Tropic Bird  v     
Phaethon lepturusPhaetonidaeWhite-tailed Tropic BirdJipkoröj [Jik, Tschik ]rb     
Phaethon rubricaudaPhaetonidaeRed-tailed Tropic BirdLokwajek v     
Philomachus pugnaxScolopacidaeRuff  v     
Pluvialis dominicaCharadriidaeGolden PloverKwölej; black variety in breeding plumage: Lukeke [Kwölej ]v,w     
Pluvialis squatrolaCharadriidaeBlack-bellied Plover  a     
Poliolimnas cinereus micronesiaeRallidaeWhite-browed Rail  x     
Porzana cinereaRallidaeWhite-browed crakeAnnan(?) [Annan(?) ]X     
Procelsterna ceruleaLaridaeBlue-gray NoddyLöum Pikaar rb     
Psittacidae sp.PsittacidaeParrot sp.  IC     
Pterodoma externaProcellaridaeWhite-necked petrel [Lekejoda ]v     
Pterodroma albaProcellaridaePhoenix Petrel [Lekejoda, Lijemao ]v     
Pterodroma hypoleuca nigripennisProcellaridaeBlack-winged Petrel (Bonin P.) [Lekejoda ]v     
Pterodroma neglectaProcellaridaeKermadec Petrel [Lekejoda ]v     
Ptilinopus porphyraceus hernsheimiColumbidaeGrimson-crowned Fruit Dove  x1870sxx
Puffinus assimilisProcellaridaeLittle ShearwaterJadmüm m     
Puffinus carneipesProcellaridaePale-footed Shearwater  m     
Puffinus griseusProcellaridaeSooty ShearwaterMantöl m     
Puffinus IherminieriProcellaridaeAudubon’s Shearwater  m     
Puffinus nativitatusProcellaridaeChristmas shearwater  m     
Puffinus pacificusProcellaridaeWedge-tailed shearwater  m     
Puffinus tenuirostrisProcellaridaeSlender-billed shearwaterMantöl m     
Rallus wakensis RallidaeWake Island Rail  x     
StercorariusLaridaeJaeger  v     
Sterna albifronsLaridaeLittle Tern  w     
Sterna anaethetaLaridaeBrown-winged Tern  a     
Sterna bergiiLaridaeCrested TernKear [Kearlap, Kaarlap ]rb     
Sterna fuscataLaridaeSooty TernMmej, Jipila (juvenile) rb     
Sterna hirundo nigripennisLaridaeCommon Tern  rb     
Sterna lunataLaridaeGray-backed Tern  rb     
Sterna paradisaeaLaridaeArtic Tern  s     
Sterna sumatranaLaridaeBlack-naped TernKear [Kear, Kaar ]rb1992RBf
Sula dactylatraSulidaeBlue-faced BoobyLöllap [Biguak ]rb     
Sula leucogasterSulidaeBrown BoobyKalo [Kalo ]rb1992Rbr
Sula sulaSulidaeRed-footed boobyUten, Nana rb     
Tringa gareolaScolopacidaeWood sandpiperKwöl m     
Tringa melanoleucusScolopacideGreater Yellowlegs [Kötköt ]RB1992RBf
Tryngites subruficollisScolopacidaeBuff-breasted Sandpiper  m     
Urodynamis taitensisCuculidaeLong-tailed New Zealand CuckooWüdeej [Uridj, Wurij ]w     


Bibliographic citation for this document

Spennemann, Dirk HR. & Benjamin, Hemley (1992[2000]) Notes on the Avifauna of Ebon Atoll, Marshall Islands.
URL: http:/

Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.