Ho‘okolo aku i ka nui manu.
My hiatus has been well-earned. I made a big move, 2400 miles away from home, to one of the most isolated islands in the world: Kaua‘i. Accepting a position as an intern for the Kaua‘i Forest Bird Recovery Project is maybe one of the most random, reckless, unplanned, and fantastic things I’ve ever done. In the past few weeks, I’ve encountered some of the most endangered birds in North America within some of the most dramatic and beautiful habitats I’ve ever seen. I’ve flown in helicopters, trying desperately to refrain from puking while simultaneously listening for the tiniest of blips on a radio receiver, indicating the presence of a bird with a transmitter tag. I’ve seen landscapes devastated by invasive species, and shamelessly found joy in the removal of rats. This is no vacation; I’ve been to a beach once in the past 7 weeks. Certainly a change of a pace for a seasoned plover lover!
For a long time, when people would ask what I wanted to do with my degree, I just mumbled something or other about doing conservation and working with endangered species… I didn’t have a solid idea of what that meant, and it showed, with how my response would just trail off into weak musings of conservation.
But right at this moment, I’m doing exactly what I always wanted.
This is who I’m working for:
“The Kaua‘i Forest Bird Recovery Project aims to promote knowledge, appreciation, and conservation of Kaua‘i’s native forest birds. Our efforts focus primarily on three federally endangered species: the Puaiohi, ‘Akikiki, and ‘Akeke‘e, with the goal of facilitating recovery of their populations in the wild.”
I’ll take you on the emotional roller coaster of Hawai‘i’s conservation status later. Tonight, I want to introduce you to the jewels of Kaua‘i’s forests. All of the photos were taken at one of our camps in the Alaka‘i Wilderness. No birds were harmed, they are perfectly safe with the way we hold them (please do not try to handle wild birds unless you have been trained to do so!)
‘Akikiki – Endangered and Endemic
Otherwise known as the Kaua‘i Creeper, ‘akikikis are small gray honeycreepers that creep around more for insects than for honey. Acting much like brown creepers or nuthatches on the mainland, these little birds are most often seen crawling along trunks and branches in search of their next meal, often accompanied by a mate or small family group. I’m not sure if it’s the plants they hang around or if they’re just emitting cuteness, but they smell wonderful. Unfortunately, they are the most endangered bird on this island. With less than 500 individuals left, the future for these sweet little birds is uncertain.
‘Akeke‘e – Endangered and Endemic
I’ve recently learned that there are more birds than just Red Crossbills that have crossed bills. The ‘Akeke‘e is one of those birds. While not as dramatic as a Red Crossbill, the slightly off-kilter beak of this bird helps it to manipulate and open buds and flowers in search of insects to eat. Mainly foraging on the flowers of ‘Ōhi‘a trees, these birds spend a great deal of time at the top of the canopy – making them notoriously difficult to capture, observe, and study. A flash of yellow and a forked tail may be all that you see as they fly between trees. Current population estimates place these guys around 700 individuals.
Puaiohi – Endangered and Endemic
Melodiously singing it’s own name, the Puaiohi or Small Kaua‘i Thrush is the oddball of the island. Like most thrushes, they are frugivorous – or fruit eaters. While they are much larger than the other birds of the island, they can be much harder to locate due to their secretive nature. Also unusual are their nesting habits. Puaiohi nest among cavities and crevices along the cliff faces of valleys that have been carved by streams. Hovering around 500 individuals, the availability of these specialized nesting habitats and native fruits are crucial to their survival.
‘Anianiau – Endemic
The smallest of the honeycreepers, these cheerful little birds are only found on Kaua‘i. Often quite vocal, you may very well hear them before you see them hopping from flower to flower in search of nectar. Adorably, they weigh about as much as 4 pennies!
Kaua‘i ‘Amakihi – Endemic
Feistier and larger than the ‘anianiau is the Kaua‘i ‘Amakihi. Their large bills allow them to garner nectar from a wide variety of flowers, as well as partaking in insects and fruit as well. Other ‘amakihi species can be found on the Big Island and Oahu, but Kaua‘i has the largest one.
Kaua‘i ‘Elepaio – Endemic subspecies
Chasiempis sandwichensis sclateri
Gregarious. Charming. Adorable (I know I’ve used this for like 3 other birds…)! If you see a bird with its tail held straight up, perpendicular to its body, it’s an ‘elepaio. ‘Elepaios are the clowns of the forest, keeping our spirits up on damp and dark days. As juveniles, they have orangey heads that molt out to gray as they age. These guys are acrobatic flycatchers, swooping up from their perches to snatch insects in mid-air, keeping our camps fly-free! Other ‘elepaio can be found on Oahu and the Big Island.
‘I‘iwi – Declining
Perhaps one of the most iconic birds of Hawai‘i, the ‘I‘iwi can be found on almost all of the islands. They are bright red jewels as adults, but have a yellowish-green leopard pattern as juveniles. Their large curved bills allow them access to the nectar of many flowers, often pollinating as they go.
Found on all the major islands, the ‘apapane is another feathered ruby that seeks nectar among the flowers. Their bills and legs are black (compared to the ‘i’iwi’s orange), and they have a “diaper” of white feathers on their rump. They have a large vocal repertoire, compared to the other honeycreepers, with at least 10 different songs.