It is pretty tough to find a better vacation spot than Maui. Life is just more relaxed and anyone you meet all seem to have smiles. The birds on Maui however are not on vacation and are busy looking for the necessities in life, just like anywhere else in the world. For such a small area, there are a surprisingly large amount of ecosystems here. This is due to the height of the volcanos, the direction of the prevailing wind, the valleys and lowlands and of course, the ocean surrounding it all. There is bird life everywhere on the island, unfortunately, the native populations gets the short end of the stick. Most of the native birds have gone extinct on the island since the 1700’s. Before that, another massive change when Polynesians landed on the islands somewhere around 400 AD. There are still some fortresses higher up on the island that support the local populations and they are certainly worth the trek. Have a read on what Maui has to offer the fair weather birder.
As part of the Hawaiian Islands, Maui is surrounded by ocean water which makes a perfect stop over for any birds that are migrating on to places south or just makes a great home for the winter. There are perfect sandy beaches for the peeps and waders, who probe the sand for buried treasure, like Sanderlings and Curlews. There are also the rocky shores consisting of pitted lava which are the favorite place of birds like the Wandering Tattler and the Ruddy Turnstone. During the breeding months there are birds that use the rocky islands for nesting such as the Black Noddy and occasionally you will see a Booby or two…… the bird variety of course. The Road to Hana offers fantastic places to stop and see the different beaches along the way.
The Urban Gardens
Hawaii is home to countless number of introduced species from all over the world. Many of these birds are suited very well to the urban settings that have become the norm in the resort areas of Hawaii. Most of these birds are very flamboyant and are known for their bright colors or their melodic voices which is why they are here. There are several species of pigeon including the very small Zebra Dove originally from the Australian continent. The Common Myna’s who are from India are absolutely everywhere and are one of the most vocal birds in the area. They certainly make you feel like you are in the tropics when you hear them calling even if they start at the crack of dawn. There are soft-billed finches of many kinds, like the African Silverbill, Chestnut Munia and the Java Sparrow, all of which can be found in pet stores all over the world but are wild in Africa and India. A conspicuously white heron which is common are called Cattle Egrets who frequent the grassy areas looking for insects. These well groomed lawns also make the perfect wintering grounds for one of the only birds still native to this elevation which are the Pacific Golden Plover. Golf courses are a favorite haunt of these part-time residents. If you are lucky enough, you may just see one of the rare native goose species along the fringes of these man made fields called the Nene. These geese are endangered so please be on the lookout while you are driving as they are susceptible to being hit by vehicles.
The Marshes and Ponds
There are several ponds that have been set aside on Maui for the endemic marsh birds like the Ae’o also known as the Hawaiian Black Necked Stilt and the ʻalae kea or Hawaiian Coot. Both of these endemic birds are endangered due to habitat loss. However, the Hawaiian people have made large in roads in conserving these areas and these ponds are allowing for a very slow comeback of the local waterfowl. These ponds also house several of the migratory species like the Pacific Golden Plover, Ruddy Turnstone as well as the Wandering Tatler. There are two main ponds on Maui with one of them north of Kihea called Kealia Pond and the other on the other side of the island in Kahului named Kanaha Pond. Kealia Pond was thought to be used as a fish pond by the Native Hawaiians where they farmed fish there. Today it is part of the National Wildlife Refuge system where the fresh water of Waikapu stream meets the salt flats creating the perfect grounds for shorebirds. Kakana Pond was once a royal fish pond of King Kapiiohookalani but is now a state wildlife sanctuary. This pond is also home to many of the stilts and coots that are endangered as well as the Hawaiian Duck. Other birds to see in both ponds are the Herons like the Black Crowned Night Heron and the Cattle Egret. While I was visiting, I was lucky enough to see a couple of rare visitors including a Laughing Gull and a White-faced Ibis. There are a couple of problems here with introduced mammals like pigs and mongoose who destroy nesting ground and eat eggs and babies. The keepers of these wild lands are now setting many live traps seen here and there mostly during nesting season.
Maui is home to two Volcanoes, The East Maui Volcano and Haleakalā. These Mountains are the last vestige of several native song birds that have seen the extinction of most of their cousins. Several of these birds are descendent from the Rosefinch of Asia and have adapted to their surroundings over many thousands of generations causing radical changes like bill shapes and coloring which allow them to be niche specialists. Many believe that the native birds of Hawaii have been killed off in the lower elevations due to habitat destruction and the infestation of Avain Malaria and now are mainly found above 4,900 feet above sea level. One of the best spots for locating these wonderful native birds is Hosmers Grove on the west side of Haleakalā just as you enter the National Park. There are several species here like the Amakihi, I’iwi, and Apanane, all of which were extremely easy to find here. Some of the harder species to find are the Maui Parrotbill and the ʻakohekohe or Crested Honeycreeper. It is recommended to contact the National Park Service so you can join a scheduled walk in the restricted access portion of the park overseen by the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii.
The Hawaiian Islands have always been a place where invaders have come and staked their claim. From the first seeds of plants blown in or washed up on the newly formed volcanic shores, to the animals that colonized each island as the chain grew. Next was the influx of the Polynesian people that first set foot on the islands some 1500 years ago and again when the rest of the world’s explorers, traders and colonists brought non-native animals and plants over, which are still changing the landscape today. As you have read throughout the article, there is a trend of introduction to all of the Islands. Most of those species were thought to be harmless, but it has been shown that even the smallest, well intentioned foreign insertion can wreak havoc to the local previously well balanced system. This is the case of the that have spread avian malaria which has been said to have come from the introduction of game birds in the 1700 or 1800’s added to the introduction of the mosquito who carries the virus from bird to bird. Also included in those animals causing great issue are goats, pigs, mongoose and a great host of birds competing for habitat and food. Thankfully, there are plans taking place now to remove these threats which will be the only way to ensure that the native species will survive and hopefully thrive again on the islands.
If you can to get there, Maui is a beautiful place to visit and it touted as being one of the top 10 beach destinations in the world. The cool ocean breeze and the warm tropical sun makes life and more importantly, birding there just that much more enjoyable. It is safe and very easy to navigate on an island of this size. The landscape changes rapidly here and in a matter of an hour, you could be travelling through dry grasslands, pelagic lookout points and thick rain forest with a different manner of birds in each zone. It is important to note that most of the birds you will see at the resort level are introduced to the island. If you really want to see what Maui has to offer, you must make your way to the mountains and the remaining strongholds of the beautiful and adapted birds that have made this Island paradise home, for millions of years.