Home Away from Home on the Islands

May 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

If you were to think about birding in Hawaii, what would be the first thought that ran through your mind? For me it was, “I wonder what kind of crazy tropical birds I am going to find”. I don’t know why, but when thinking about birds in Hawaii that I immediately think of birds that you would expect to find in the rainforest’s of the Amazon, the flashy colors and the long ornate tail feathers. I think you will be surprised, as I was, with the familiar feathered friends that Hawaii has in store for birders.

A familiar call

It is always comforting to be somewhere new and hear a familiar voice calling out to you. For me that was when I woke up to a beautiful morning on Kauai, welcomed by the familiar call of the Western Meadowlark! I was surprised to hear the beautiful song of one of my favorite birds. Upon doing a little research on the matter I was shocked to find out that they were introduced to Kauai, undoubtedly for the beautiful song they sing. Finding the Meadowlark inspired me to go on a hunt for other birds that I didn’t expect to see on the islands.

Who’s laughing at me?

Imagine my surprise when I was doing some hiking and thinking I was alone when suddenly I was surprised to hear what sounded like someone was laughing at me. Having experienced living and hiking in Idaho, I suddenly realized that I was being mocked by a Chukar! Oh how illusive they are in the rocky hills in Idaho – it can be quite hard to get a good view of this beautiful bird. I was in complete shock when I had several run-ins with them along the trail I was hiking.

Before visiting Hawaii, I had never seen a Chukar pop out of a bush and stand in the trail in front of me, so it was truly a magical moment for me to share the trail so comfortably with the bird. Hawaiian Chukars are so comfortable around people, so I was able to get so close to them, seeing the beauty of all of their different colors for what seemed like the first time.

A friendly covey

While relaxing on a shady hillside on Maui, I heard another familiar call. This time it was more of a ka-kah-ko, ka-kah-ko. Could it be one of my frequent visitors to my feeders at home? It sounded like it was close so I didn’t want to move too fast and spook it away. Slowly looking and scanning for any movement I finally spotted a group of birds scurrying along the ground. Seeing a healthy covey of California Quail put a huge smile on my face.

There is something quite amiable about the quail. I think if I had to describe the ‘personality’ of them, the only word that comes to mind is ‘bubbly’. I have watched them at my own ground feeders for years and never get tired of the little chirps and squeaks that they make.

Could it be?!

In my final few days of my time on the beautiful islands of Hawaii I decided to try an experiment of sorts. I had been seeing flashes of a very bright bird, but I couldn’t get a good view of it. I had heard rumors that this bird was on the islands, but until I saw it with my own eyes I wouldn’t believe it. So I went to a local store and picked up a window birdfeeder and a small bag of seed, to see if I could lure one in. Now, even as an avid birder, I didn’t spend all of my time in my room waiting to see what would come eat from the feeder, I was in Maui after all!

The times that I was in my room I witnessed a lot of amazing activity feeding from the birdfeeder. Then it happened, a flash of bright red, and sitting there on my feeder was a Northern Cardinal! I had heard that they had accidentally been introduced on the islands, but I guess I didn’t expect to actually see one. I decided to get in touch with the local Audubon Society and see if I could get some information on how they ended up there. From the information I was able to gather it sounds like someone had a pair as a pet and one escaped. To try to ensure the bird’s survival, they also let the second one go right after. This happened back in 1929. Reportedly between the years of 1929-1931 there were several hundred more pairs that were brought over and introduced to the islands. Seeing the bird in person was an amazing experience and one I will never forget.

Eye Opener

You just never know what you are going to find when you take a trip. I had a blast not only seeing a bunch of the native birds but also so many familiar species of birds. It just goes to show that when you don’t spend all of your time on the beach and just open up your eyes you will see things that you never expected to see. You might see some familiar feathers among the branches when you are looking for the new ones. If you ever have the chance to get over to Hawaii don’t miss out on the opportunity to get out and enjoy some of the beautiful birds and see what other species you can find that you didn’t expect to see!

Article contributed by: Ernie Allison

(Picture courtesty of USFWS via Wikimedia Commons)

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Also known as the ‘Redbird’ the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is one of the most popular birds in the United States. Easily identified by its bright red coloring, this pretty little bird is a common sight on snow-covered bird feeders across most of eastern USA. Its range even extends as far as southeastern Canada, Mexico, Belize and even Hawaii, though it has spread to New York, New England and Hawaii in more recent years. The less colorful female is generally more vocal than the male; however, both sexes sing and can be heard year round. The Northern Cardinal is a nonmigratory bird, though some movement may occur in summer and autum.

The Northern Cardinal is fairly easy to identify. It is a small bird with a length of 21-23 cm. The wingspan may vary between 25-31 cm and the bird weighs between 42-48 grams. In general the bird has a large, conical bill, a crested head and along tail. It is the male that bears the bright red plumage that is so commonly associated with the species. This plumage is dullest on the back and wings of the bird. The male has black coloration around his face and at the base of his bill. The bill is also a brilliant red. The adult female, in contrast, is mainly a greyish-tan color. Only her crest, wings, tail and bill show some red and this is much less bright than the red found on the male. Juvenile birds are similar to the female in colour but they have a darker bill and crest.

When it comes to nesting, it is the female that usually starts building the nest. The nest is reasonably small and made of small twigs and grasses. It is usually built in a shrub or brushy tangle and once it is built, the female will lay between 3 and 4 eggs in it. These are incubated by the female in just under two weeks. After this, the male shares in the responsibility of raising the young. A pair may raise as many as four broods in one breeding season with the male tending one brood while the female starts incubating the next one. Male Northern Cardinals are fiercely territorial and those with brighter red plumage generally have better breeding grounds and greater reproductive success.