For the Birds Radio Program: Planning a Trip to Hawaii, Part 2
Hawaii’s Beautiful Birds
February in the Northland can be rather dismal, especially when you can’t forget that it’s winter, but there isn’t enough snow to enjoy the season. But I’ve been planning a getaway, and just reading about Hawaiian birds is warming me considerably.
The first thing I did when I found out we were going was to order a birder’s guide to Hawaii, a set of Hawaiian bird tapes, and a booklet titled Hawaii’s Birds put together by the Hawaii Audubon Society. On the cover is a bizarrely gorgeous bird–it has the brilliant red and black pattern of our Scarlet Tanager, but with bright salmon-colored legs and a long, strongly curved salmon-colored beak. This bird, found nowhere in the world except the Hawaiian islands, is called the l’iwi. It looks so wonderfully strange that I was afraid I’d read that this was one of the endangered species that I probably wouldn’t see, but although it is considered endangered on Oahu and Molokai, it’s apparently still fairly common on Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui. The strongly curved bill is used for sipping nectar from flowers. These brilliant birds are found mostly in the tree canopies, feeding on ohia blossoms, so I may get warbler neck searching for them, but it will be well worth it.
Another bright red bird abundant in the ohia forests is the Apapane, colored like a Summer Tanager, shaped like a finch, with a beak shape like an oriole.
The Elepaio is a little sprite, considered by native Hawaiians to be the friendly guardian spirit of canoe makers. There are three distinct subspecies, one each on Kauai, Oahu, and Hawaii. They all look rather like female warblers, but with the curious habit of cocking their long tails like a wren. The brightest colored one is the one I am likely to see–the Big Island subspecies has rich chestnut and black markings and bright white feathers on the flanks and rump.
The Hawaiian Goose, or Nene, is the state bird. This endangered species is locally common at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park, and apparently is fairly easy to see right near the Visitor’s Center. This bird apparently evolved from visiting Canada Geese, and still has many markings like our own familiar goose, but it’s adapted to sparsely vegetated lava flows. The webs on its feet are reduced, and the claws are long, to hang onto rocky soil better.
Only one hawk, the l’o [or Hawaiian Hawk], has found its way to Hawaii. The native owl is a subspecies of our Short-eared Owl, and hunts over short grass areas, but to control the introduced rat population, Barn Owls were introduced several times between 1958 and 1966. When they first arrived, the ancient Polynesians brought with them Red Junglefowl, and some escaped and became genuinely wild, so what are for all practical purposes barnyard chickens run around the rain forests of Kauai as genuinely wild birds. Feral chickens also live and breed in wild areas of the other main islands.
The birds of Hawaii include the most mundane chickens and most exotic of songbirds, but no where on any of the islands will I find a single chickadee, jay, or warbler. Apparently it’s a nice place to visit, but without my favorite birds, I wouldn’t want to live there.