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)

Game Birds Losing Feathers

September 13, 2011 by  
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Winter is setting in, and you absolutely do not know what to do. Your quail and pheasants have lost feathers and you don’t want them to get chilled. What do you do?

A common problem in blue scale quail is fright. Similar to when a lizard drops its tail, it is a clever defense mechanism. When a predator grabs the bird, a bunch of feathers drop out, leaving a live quail and an annoyed predator. When someone picks up the blue scales the same happens. A good way to prevent this from happening is to only handle these birds for check-ups or emergencies. If you have extremely tame quail and this only happens rarely, it is okay to handle them.

Pheasants do not have large problems with picking. When it does happen, it is usually with ring-neck pheasants. These slightly aggressive birds will pick or attack other birds. This behavior is known for starting when they are still chicks and becoming more full-fledged (no pun intended) in juveniles and adults. They will even pick at pheasants of their own species. A good way to keep them from hurting flock members is keeping them separate from other pheasants (and other birds in general). If you have a flock of them, give them plenty of space, as well as something else to pick at, such as shoestrings or jingle balls made for cats or parrots.

If you keep your quail and pheasants with chickens, hang shoestrings from the wire or put toys or something inside to provide entertainment. On rare occasions chickens will severely maim their own species or other birds and have been known to engage in cannibalism. This is known to happen due to extreme boredom.

Mites are a very common problem. Remember to keep coops or cages clean at all times and put out dust baths occasionally for your birds.

Even if your birds do not pick it is a good idea to take them to the avian vet yearly. Make sure your birds stay healthy no matter what.

Montezuma Quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Cyrtonyx montezumae, or as it is more commonly known, the Montezuma quail, is seven inches in length and is a small, shy, stocky bird with round wings. It also has a short, rounded brown tail and is basically a ground-dwelling bird. This bird is mainly a Mexican species and can be found along the entire length of the western side of the country. The northern range of its territory goes into southern Arizona and New Mexico where they can be found in many small groups scattered in different mountain ranges. There are also small groups scattered in West Texas.

The adult male Montezuma quail has an attractive black and white harlequin face patterning and a dark brown belly. The male has a reddish-brown crest that goes backwards and covers his entire nape. The side of his breast and his flanks are a grey color with white spots speckled all over and the main part of his breast being a rich brown. His back is a dark brown with many reddish-brown colored streaks painted on and his wing coverts are also a brown color but have solid black spots to break the brown. Although the male has such decorative and bold patterning he is still relatively hard to spot, let alone study and census.

The female quail has an overall duller brown plumage in comparison to the male, with dark upper parts. She has the same black and white face patterning as the male but it is a more mottled brown and reddish-brown color. Like the male she also has a reddish-brown colored crest that covers the nape and she is touched all over with reddy-white streaks. The Montezuma quail is unlike any other quail because of its plumage and head shape. The female is however similar to the female Northern Bobwhite but the Montezuma quail has a darker belly.

These quails are secretive birds and it takes one quite a while to spot them in the grassy oak woodlands in the American Southwest and western Mexico. These beautiful birds in America are under threat because of the extensive habitat degradation and destruction that has taken place as well as the increased hunting that is taking place. Conservation efforts are being made to ensure the survival of a number of species of quails, including the fascinating Montezuma Quail.

Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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If you ever happen to see one, you will find that Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) are very attractive birds. Commonly found in densely wooded foothills and mountains along the West Coast of the US, these birds are somewhat unique in that they migrate up and down the slopes of the mountains according to the seasons. They are the only bird in the Quail family to perform some form of seasonal migration. The Mountain Quail is also known by several other names including the ‘Painted Quail’, the ‘Mountain Partridge’ and the ‘Plumed Quail’.

Generally speaking, Mountain Quail are fairly large (26-28 cm), distinctive birds. They have a long, straight head plume – sometimes called ‘top knots’ – as well as striking maroon throats set off by a white border. The female’s plume is shorter than the male’s. Their heads and breasts are grey while their bellies are chestnut and marked with bold white bars. The Mountain Quail’s underparts are a brownish-grey while their back and tail might be described as being olive-brown. Both sexes are similar in colour and size and the bird has a fairly chunky body with round wings and a short tail – features which are quite common for a ground-dwelling bird. The bird’s distinctive colouring makes it quite difficult to see in its natural habitat.

Every year between March and June, the Mountain Quail pair off for breeding purposes. The female lays 6-15 eggs in a shallow depression on the ground which may hatch 24-25 days later. The nest is usually concealed by surrounding vegetation and it is usually quite close to water. After only a few hours of breathing clean heart, the downy young leave the nest and are cared for by the parents who direct them to food instead of feeding it to them. The chicks seem to eat more insects than their adult counterparts who seem to prefer plant matter as a means of sustenance. As they mature, Mountain Quail young may congregate in large groups of up to 20 birds.

Though Mountain Quails are capable of moving quickly through the undergrowth, they are a favourite amongst quail hunters and their numbers have decreased dramatically over the past fifty years. However it would seem that this is mainly due to lost of habitat from human development and not from hunting. Hunting of this bird has been banned in places such as Idaho and eastern Oregon and while the bird is not considered to be endangered, efforts have been made to boost Mountain Quail numbers in certain parts of the country.

Entertaining Button Quails are a Delight to Keep

March 31, 2008 by  
Filed under Pet Birds

Button quail owners agree that these small, cute, relatively quiet little birds make wonderful pets. Button quails are very active and their antics can provide hours of amusement. Although not easily tamed, with patience on behalf of the human caretaker, button quails do respond positively to love and attention.

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