Bird Watcher

Bird Watcher

           My grandfather drove his 59 Chevy Impala and us every Sunday to the church in Nuuanu.  It was a long and boring ride on the road from Wahiawa that took us alongside cane fields.   If I was lucky, I’d see long-legged white birds, high stepping and pecking here and there looking for centipedes, worms, and anything to eat in the red dirt and broken cane stalks.  I thought they were cranes like the ones I read about in fairy tales.  I later learned that they were not cranes at all, but cattle egrets brought in to control flies that bothered livestock.

The good intentions for their presence evaporated at their peak numbers.  The egrets jeopardized aircraft safety, ate shrimp and prawns from aquaculture farms, and preyed on nests of at least four Hawaii species of endangered water birds.   I don’t see the egrets anymore since cattle ranges and cane fields are not part of the urban sprawl.

Mynah birds are also gone or hiding from sight somewhere.   They were brought to Hawaii in the mid-1800s for control of cutworm moths eating away at crops.  Easy adapters, the mynahs rapidly spread throughout the islands.  They are bossy birds and are not afraid of people.

Whenever I think back to beach days at Haleiwa Park, I can hear the deafening noise of the enormous flock that returned at dusk to the banyan tree.   Eerily, their noise stopped abruptly as the sun disappeared.  No wonder there’s a song about the sassy little mynah bird who loves to talk, talk, talk.  Back then, this one was more of a nuisance than an invasive species. Maybe that’s why we say mynah, mynah, when it’s no big thing.

The rose-ringed parakeet is a big thing.  A few birds were imported to Kauai as somebody’s good idea for a bed and breakfast attraction.  They are beautiful birds with lime green feathers, thin pink ribbon at the neck, orange-pink eye rings, and a matching colored curved beak. The birds eventually got loose, and some say it was during Hurricane Iwa. They now thrive in Kauai’s lush growth, numbering at 5,000 in 2017.

These birds are like Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds on steroids.   They watch and recognize people.  There’s a retired ship’s captain that sets out bird feed daily at his Diamond Head home. The birds know him and follow him when he jogs at Kapiolani Park.   They are smart, entertaining birds.   However, their charm wears thin as their numbers grow without any natural predators and with the abundance of food.

In West Oahu, a Waikele flock of 100 grew to 1,000 within four years, disrupting the community’s peace of mind.   Aside from the noise, the flock’s acidic droppings reportedly burned through mailboxes and destroyed six palm trees.   In urban Honolulu, about 1,200 birds roost in trees on Punahou Street across Shriners Hospital and the Banyan Tree Plaza condos. They come for the night from as far away as Kalihi, Nuuanu, Roosevelt High School, and Kapiolani Park.  During the day, the birds roam freely and descend like the plague on tree crops like mango, papaya, guava, and anything that strikes their fancy.

But like politics, all things are local. Never mind the multi-million-dollar damage these birds inflict on Hawaii agriculture or the environment.  It’s the Pacific Palisades flock that flies in the early morning from the East like stealth bombers that rattle my core.   Circling the neighborhood, they survey my son’s lychee tree for red and ready fruit.  At the right time, two scouts scope out the area for safety and alert the rest of the flock to come and feast.  Starting at the top where ample sunlight makes the plumpest and sweetest fruit, they then work their way down the tree.  No lychee for me this season—only hollowed out lychee shells hanging from the stem.

By far, the bird of paradise is the worse of the invasive birds.  It is the pickiest about nesting along the best beaches, often blocking access to the coast.  Frenchie De Soto, the Hawaiian activist, told me that the 70s brought the jumbo jets filled with tourists to the islands.  It was the first wave of many carrier jets of unimaginable numbers.

This brought flocks of the bird of paradise, monster metal cranes, that build towering nests to house tourists that have grown in numbers to 10 million annually.  The birds of paradise are like the egrets, mynahs, and rose-ringed parakeets, welcomed with good intentions.  Our islands are paved with good intentions, and we all know where that road takes us.



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