Responsibly visiting Hawaiʻiʻs Birds
Words to know:
Kilo: to watch closely, examine, or observe
Birds have a deep cultural significance in Hawaiʻi and were an integral part of this place for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, as the landscape changed following colonization and non-native plants, animals, and diseases ravaged the landscapes, our birds became harder and harder to access and have largely disappeared from our everyday lives and cultural practice. Despite this many of our birds persist and can be found if you know where and how to responsibly look.
Hawaiʻi is the bird extinction capitol of the world, and we have lost over 77 known species since humans first arrived in the islands. Most of this loss has occurred in response to the introduction of invasive species particularly mosquitoes which have spread diseases such as avian pox and malaria to many of our native birds. Despite this, areas on all the islands still provide great access to native forest birds and getting out to see them is a great way to connect to place and take steps toward rebuilding the connection to our native birds.
Best Practices for viewing birds:
1. Be patient. Waiting near some blossoming lehua or another attractive plant will often give you the best looks at native birds. They feed on a cycle, so if you wait in a place where you previously saw a bird for 15-45 minutes it will most likely come back!
2. Be quiet.
3. Be extra cautions around nesting birds. Your presence could lead a predator to the nest causing it to fail or worse.
4. Try to leave pets at home when birding. Dogs and other animals can frighten or stress birds.
5. Do not chase birds. Getting too close or following the birds often makes them perceive you as a predator and they will just keep moving further away.
6. Stay on marked trails and paths. Birds depend on a wide variety of native plants and moving off trail will damage their homes and threaten their food supply.
7. Bring binoculars or a camera. These tools help get you closer to the bird and allow you to really observe their behaviors. For binoculars try to find anything that is 8X42 magnification and bring them with you on every outing, you never know what might be just outside of your field of view.
8. Consider wearing muted colors or camouflage. Bright colors can startle birds and push them away from the observer.
9. Learn bird sounds. The Merlin app is free and has recordings of every bird found in Hawai’i! *Never use sounds to bring birds in. This causes stress and is illegal for most of our native bird species.
10. Pick up a local field guide to learn more about the birds found in Hawaiʻi.
11. Finally realize that here in Hawaiʻi these are not just birds. Native birds hold a deep cultural importance that transcends conservation and science, and they deserve our care, and our kūleana. Every time you enter a forest you enter their space, their home. Give them the respect they are entitled too. It is important for us to see these birds and these places, but it is equally important to leave them as they were and minimize our impact.
Kauaʻi Forest birds:
Birds on Kauaʻi are in steep decline, but the Puaiohi, Kauaʻi ʻAmakihi, ʻAnianiau, ʻAkekeʻe, Kuaaʻi ʻElepaio ʻApapane, ʻIʻiwi and even the ʻAkikiki can all be seen off of hiking trails in Kokeʻe and the Alakaʻi Swamp.
The Pihea and ʻAlakaʻi Swamp trails provide some of the best areas to look for birds especially in March when the Hāhāaiʻakamanu is blooming right along the trail. Native birds can be seen through most of the area and even at the Kalalau lookout, but to find Puaiohi or ‘Akikiki birders will have to hike the 8-mile round trip Mohihi-Waialae Trail.
Kauaʻi: Iʻiwi & Puaiohi
photos by: @birds_hawaii_pastpresent
Oʻahu forest birds:
Despite being the most populated and urbanized of the main islands, Oʻahu provides some of the easiest access to native birds. Nearly every ridge trail will bring you into the habitats of the Oʻahu ʻelepaio, Oʻahu ʻamakihi and the ʻApapane!ʻAmakihi can even be seen at the UH Lyon Arboretum.
Check out the Wiliwilinui, and ʻAiea ridge trails for some of the best views of these unique Oʻahu birds.
ʻApapane, Oʻahu ʻElepaio, and Oʻahu ʻAmakihi
Photos by @birds_hawaii_pastpresent
Maui forest birds:
Maui has limited access to forest birds; however, Halaeakalā National Park offers some of the best places to view the charismatic ʻIʻiwi. On Maui you can find ʻIʻiwi, ʻAlauahio, Hawaiʻi ʻAmakihi, ʻApapane, and if lucky Kiwikiu and ʻĀkohekohe.
In Haleakalā one of the best places to view these bird species is at Hosmer’s grove just inside the park entrance. They can also be seen at Palikū or along some of the other lookout locations and trails throughout the park. In the park you can see high numbers of ʻIʻiwi, ʻAlauahio, Hawaiʻi ʻAmakihi, and ʻApapane. If you can plan ahead, the Nature Conservancy also offers limited tours of the Waikamʻi Preserve. Here you can see the ‘Ākohekohe and even the Kiwikiu. Slots must be reserved 2 months in advance and birding is not the primary focus of these trips but they provide you with some of the only access to ever see these critically endangered forest birds.
Kiwikiu and ʻĀkohekohe
Photos by: @birds_hawaii_pastpresent
Hawaiʻi Island Forest birds:
Hawaiʻi island probably has the largest populations of forest birds and some of the best points of access for viewing. The island is home to Palila, Hawaiʻi ʻAmakihi, Hawaiʻi ʻEleapaio ʻApapane, ʻIʻiwi, ʻŌmaʻo, ʻIo, ʻĀkepa, ʻAlawī and ʻĀkiapōlāʻau.
To view the more common birds (ʻIʻiwi, ʻŌmaʻo, ʻApapane, ʻAmakihi, and ʻElepaio) Check out the strip road in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, the Kaumana and Kaulana Manu hiking trails, and check out Maunaloa access road to look for the amazing sub-alpine lava ʻŌmaʻo. For the rarer wet forest birds (ʻĀkepa, ʻĀlawī, and ʻĀkiapōlāʻau) check out the Puʻu ʻŌʻō trail or Powerline road, the Puʻu Makaʻala Natrual Area Reserve, or book a tour at the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Finally to view the Palila and unique Mauanakea ʻelepaio check out the Palila Discovery Trail (4-wheel drive access only).
Palila, Hawaiʻi ʻElepaio ʻApapane, ʻŌmaʻo, and ʻĀkiapōlāʻau
Photos by @birds_hawaii_pastpresent
Please get out and kilo our native forest birds responsibly. There may not be as many manu today as there once were, but they like us are still here, still fighting for their existence and still adapting to change. The only way we can protect our manu is by continuing to appreciate them and familiarizing ourselves with their presence so that we can better understand what they need to survive and how to conserve them.
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Written By: Bret Nainoa Mossman