03 December 2011

Introduced Birds of the Big Island, Hawaii: Song Birds

I previously posted about the introduced game birds of Hawaii. Those species were all introduced for hunting opportunities (for food or for recreation). But many bird species were introduced to Hawaii for more aesthetic reasons: they looked or sounded pretty. Some of these were accidental, escapees from cages, while others were intentional releases to try to enhance the beauty of the island. Here are some of the introduced songbirds I saw on my recent trip to the Big Island, arranged roughly from most to least common in my experience.

Common Myna

Common Mynas are probably the most frequently observed bird species in Hawaii.  To me, they were like an equivalent of European Starlings, which are not found in Hawaii.  They were common in lawns and gardens around the island, and at night they would gather at large communal roosts, making quite a racket as they settled in at dusk.  They were introduced from India in 1865 to control insect pests.

Japanese White-Eye
The Japanese White-Eye is a small songbird that reminded me of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in size and behavior.  They are among the most common species in some parts of Hawaii, and unlike some of the introduced species, they can be found both in the lowlands around the cities and in the higher elevations where the native birds are still found.  For this reason, and because they also sometimes feed on nectar, they are sometimes considered one of the biggest threats to the native honeycreepers among the introduced birds (disease and habitat loss are probably bigger threats overall).

Java Sparrow
Java Sparrows were also pretty common on the Kona side of the island and usually found in flocks.  This beautiful bird is very distinctive and can be recognized at a great distance with its pink bill and bold white cheek patch.  I have read that these are the most common species at bird feeders where the species occurs.

African Silverbill
African Silverbills are also a pretty common introduced species around the Big Island.  The last time I visited, in 2000, these were lumped together with what is now known as Indian Silverbills and collectively known as Warbling Silverbills.  This species likes to travel in flocks, so when you see one you'll usually see several.

Saffron Finch

Saffron Finches are very bright birds that were introduced from South America in the 1960s.  The book I have, from 1997, says that they are found on the dry side of the island, but eBird shows them over most of the island, so I believe they've spread in the last decade or two.  They are still more common on the dry side, though.

Yellow-fronted Canary
Yellow-fronted Canaries were introduced from Africa in the 1960s, and are now found on the Big Island and Oahu.  Like the Saffron Finch, they are more common on the dry side of the island but can also be found on the wet side, including some of the strongholds of the native honeycreepers.


House Finch
 House Finches are quite familiar to North American birders.  I was surprised at how many yellow morphs I saw, like this one.  Yellow morphs are somewhat rare in the mainland, but probably more common than red morphs on the Big Island.  I found them to be frequent in small numbers at all elevations I visited.

Yellow-billed Cardinal
Yellow-billed Cardinals were frequently encountered but usually singly or in pairs.  They were introduced from South American in the 1970s.  They are generally limited to the parks and gardens in the lower elevations, but we did see one at Pu'u Huluhulu on the Saddle Road at an elevation of about 6,600 feet, which is unusual.

Northern Cardinal
There were two species of cardinal on the Big Island, the second being the same Northern Cardinal that is familiar to birders from North America.  However, the Yellow-billed Cardinal is only a "cardinal" in name: it is actually a species of tanager.  Northern Cardinals were less common, and also found in small numbers.

Northern Mockingbird
I found Northern Mockingbirds to be among the rarest introduced songbird I saw.  I only saw two of this species in my two weeks on the island, and they were both at the same location.  (There are rarer introduced species that I didn't see.)  Northern Mockingbirds were introduced from North America in the 1920s, and can be found just about anywhere but are much more likely on the dry sides of the islands.

Watch for another post on Hawaii's wildlife coming soon. . . .

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great pictures I know nothing about birds but am on vacation for a week (from the UK) in Hawaii just wanted to know the names of a few of the cool birds - thanks

Terri Johnson said...

In my wildest imagination I can't think of anything that could enhance the beauty of this island.