A Troubled Paradise

While most see the Hawaiian Island chain as an unspoiled tropical paradise, the islands have a darker side.

The islands also bears the undesirable moniker of “The Extinct Bird Capital of the World”.

Over 200 years ago, early scientists described and categorized the native avian endemic species of the Hawaiian Islands. Unfortunately now, over half of these endemics are now extinct. Fading away to diseases, competition from introduced species, and habitat loss.

Native Hawaiian species are under assault from so many sources. These threats have all been brought to the islands primarily by humans.

When you first step off the plane, the first bird you see is most likely introduced. Most visitors, who don’t head up into the higher rainforests will not likely ever see a true Hawaiian endemic species. Over 150 avian species have been introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, where they are known as “alien” species.

The bird that I encountered most, the bird I jokingly labeled Hawaiian starling, is the common myna. This bird was introduced to Hawaii in 1865 and originally hails from India and Southern Asia. The myna was introduced to the Hawaiian Islands to help control agricultural pests. But now they have a large breeding population that competes with native species for food resources and nesting sites.

A common myna, doing what it was brought to Hawaii to do: eat bugs.

The myna has also been introduced in Australia, New Zealand, and Madagascar. It is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of the 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species. Three out these invasive species are birds and all three: common myna, red-vented bulbul, and European starling can be found in Hawaii.

All the invasive species compete with the sometimes less resilient natives species. It is not just avian species that decimate the locals but one of the largest mammalian land predators on the Hawaiian Islands (which is not very large) preys on ground nesting species eggs such as the state bird of Hawaii, the nene or Hawaiian goose.

The one endemic Hawaiian bird that visitors might encounter on the Big Island, especially if you play golf, is the nene or Hawaiian goose. This group was found grazing on a golf course. Note the human intervention, which saved the nene, in the leg bands.

The nene has since been brought back from the brink of extinction by extensive human efforts through protection and captive breeding programs. It would be a sad sign to have your state bird go extinct.

This is the terror to any ground-nesting bird, or any creature that can’t out run, climb, or fly this hyperpredator the Indian mongoose.

The Indian (small Asian) mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) was introduced to Hawaii in 1883 to control rats on sugar cane plantations. This prolific predator is also on the list of the 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species. Good thing this mongoose cannot climb trees or more bird species would be affected.

Many of the introduced species have lived and thrived on the Hawaiian Islands for over a 100 years. They are countable on lifelists but many birders want to find the endemic Hawaiians before there disappear from the face of the Earth.

The absolutely stunning male common peafowl (known as a peacock) has been a resident of the Hawaiian Islands for over 150 years. They were first introduced, from India, in 1860.
The flawed beauty of the male kaliji pheasant. Flawed because it is an introduced game bird from the Himalayan foothills. It was the most common bird seen in Volcanoes National Park, usurping the common myna for a brief part of my travels.

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