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Our Feathered Friends - March 16

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Most of the birds I saw fell into the first three categories!  I also learned that many birds only exist on specific islands and since we spent our vacation in Maui I was limited to a small region.  

Several species I saw are common to Tennessee: Black Crowned Night Heron, Common Peafowl (peacock), Red Junglefowl (rooster & hens), Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow, and House Finch.  The Junglefowl are basically roosters and hens that have escaped through the years and establish wild populations throughout the island. The only bird I saw and have pictures of that is endemic to the islands is the Black-Necked Stilt or in Hawaiian the "Ae'o."

Most birds that are endemic to the islands are classified as endangered or extinct and therefore hard or impossible to find. I did see a winter visitor, the Gray-tailed Tattler, which is a rare migrant from Asia.

He was "fishing" on a rock cropping near where we were snorkeling. I am hopeful I have a picture that Ray can put with this article but if not you can ask Ray to email you a copy of the picture.

The other birds I saw that are not common here and are considered Alien species in Hawaii include the: Gray Francolin, Ring-Necked Pheasant, Cattle Egret, Japanese White-eye, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Common Myna, Red-Crested Cardinal, Orange-Cheeked Waxbill, Java Sparrow, and Nutmeg Mannikin. The House Sparrows and the Common Myna seem to be the cleanup crew. They were found near all restaurants, beaches, and eating areas and would happily steal food right off your table if you gave them even the slightest opportunity.

For those of you who have not traveled to Hawaii you need to know that most buildings and especially hotels are open to the outside. It makes for a wonderful tropical open-air environment, but allows the bird’s access to more than it should!!

The Zebra doves were also part of the cleanup crew but appeared to be on the bottom rung of the ladder. Zebra Doves are smaller at 8 inches to our Mourning doves which can be 12" inches. They also have a beautiful blue tent to the outer edges of their wings. They sound identical to the Mourning Doves but at a little higher and faster "coo." 

The hierarchy to the cleanup crew appears to be the Myna on top, then the House sparrow and finally the Zebra dove. I determined this by watching the Myna's attack any other bird that took food first. In one case, while sitting by the pool I watched a Myna grab a House sparrow by the leg, hold him down on his back and proceed to peck him removing several of his stomach feathers! I was about to get up and shoo him off when he finally let the little fellow go.

We also saw a lot of Java sparrows. They are about 6 inches, and males differ from the females only in brightness. The males remind me of raccoons. They have a dark black eye mask and cap with white cheeks. They eat seeds and bugs.

Another bird similar to the Java is the Orange-cheeked waxbill. The waxbill is only 4.5 inches, and like the Java, travel in small flocks eating seeds and bugs.

Another interesting little bird we saw on several occasions was the Japanese White-eye, however, these little 4.5 inch birds do not hold still. They are a beautiful yellowish-green color with a bright white ring around their eyes. They also build a nice neat little woven cup nest that hangs from tree branches.

When we first arrived at our hotel we noticed that two little trees in a protected walkway had these little woven cups hanging from their branches. This is actually what prompted me to go to Barnes & Noble and purchase my Hawaiian Bird book. I'm so glad I did because I was not only able to identify what bird made these nests but also able to keep track of the birds we saw... as well as identify a few we would never have been able to without the book ~ for example the nutmeg mannikin and gray-tailed tattler!

I also believe the first morning we were on the island some Black-Footed Albatross landed in a palm tree near the pool area of our hotel. They were huge, and at first I thought they were pelicans, but then learned that pelicans are not found in Hawaii. I assumed we would see them again and didn't bother to take the time to identify them or take pictures. I later learned from the book that they are very infrequent visitors to the coastlines of the populated islands...in other words it was a special but lost opportunity!!

The blue jay has been removed from my top spot of most noisy birds!  While on the island we were introduced to the Gray Francolin and this bird brings a whole new meaning to loud. Especially when they decided to perch right outside our hotel room bright and early in the mornings!  However, we mostly found them walking around on the grounds of the hotel or on the wonderful-groomed golf course lawns pecking at the grass for seeds and bugs. They remind me of a cross between a hen and a quail. They are not bright and colorful but they do have one loud call and can run amazingly fast! They are about 12 inches and both sexes look similar.  Their call is a loud, piercing repeated “titur-titur-titur” and was very easy to distinguish between all the other calls.

Another bird found wildly throughout the islands is the Cattle Egret. This was not my first time to see this beautiful bird as I had first seen it on a birding trip with Ray last summer in Lebanon.  They are very common in Hawaii, and we saw them everywhere we went. However, what impressed me most was how a few of them have learned to use the guests at the hotel to hunt for lizards and bugs! Lizards abound on the islands and will remain perfectly still until you get too close at which time they will dart off catching your eye as they go.  My husband and I noticed that several of the egrets would closely follow guests as they walked near bushes that lined many of the walkways. The guests were truly amused and thought the birds just "liked" them, but we realized they were actually using the guests to startle the lizards at which time they would jump at the bush and grab their meal!!

There are no native reptiles, mammals or amphibians on the Hawaiian Islands. Because the islands came to exist from volcanic activity in the middle of the ocean no creatures other than birds and marine life are considered unique or endemic to the islands. Birds and marine life that are endemic to the islands are given Hawaiian names. All other creatures have only their scientific and common names. 

There are also no snakes in Hawaii, except for the ocean dwelling Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake. Snakes originally brought over on boats along with rats and mice, got out of control on the islands until the Mongoose was introduced to bring down the snake and rat populations. Now there are no longer snakes and very few rats, but as you may imagine the Mongoose is very common and we saw numerous ones scamper across the roads or fields.

Along with the Mongoose, many of the mammals that now call Hawaii home were once farm animals that escaped and established themselves in the wild. Examples of these are Boar (pig), goat, donkey, chicken and wallaby (small cousins of the kangaroo).

My husband and I were fortunate to make our trip to Hawaii during the peak of Humpback whale activity in the area. We even took a boat trip out into the ocean to get a better view. We saw lots of mothers and babies relaxing in the warm waters before making their trip north to Alaska to feed.

We also had the opportunity to snorkel with Green Sea Turtles and even saw one resting on the beach just north of our hotel. I'm sure that if my dear friend and bird mentor, Ray, had been with me I would have seen many more birds and taken trips to outer islands where more private and endemic species nest.  However, overall we had a great vacation and enjoyed our experiences. I hope that if you ever have a chance to visit Hawaii you will take it. It is a beautiful place with many special qualities.

Don't forget this coming Saturday, March 19, Ray Pope will be presenting two seminars on birds at Garr’s Rental and Feed store in Mt. Julie. At 9:30am, we will be talking about Bluebirds and at 11, Purple Martins. I hope that you can attend both programs.

I would love to hear from you as to what’s lurking about in your neighborhood and at your feeders. You can call me at 547-7371 or write me at 606 Fairview Ave. Lebanon, TN, 37087, or e-mail me at ourfeatheredfriends@yahoo.com

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