Native Hawaiian birds have some of the sweetest songs I have ever heard. These honeycreepers are altitudinal migrants living in wet forests along the slopes of Hawaiian mountains. They follow the progress of blooms across altitudes as the weather changes. Despite being the third most common land bird in Hawai’i’, it is still considered threatened.
Widespread destruction of forests and the spread of avian malaria has caused drastic reduction in their population. They have lost 90% of their range and are being considered to be endangered species.
As their common english name suggests ‘I’iwi use their curved bills to extract nectar from flowers. Shown here an ‘I’wi tries its luck on a Haleakalā Sandalwood inflorescence.
Search for native Hawaii plants to look for, and undoubtedly the name of ‘Ohi’a lehua will show up on the list. This charismatic plant is the most common native tree found in Hawaii. It is an evergreen, highly variable tree found on the six major islands. Its flowers are showy and come in various colors ranging from yellow to red, red being the most common variation. Flowers are produced as inflorescence made up of a mass of long stamens. Ohia lehua forests are essential habitats for various native birds as it is one of the few Hawaiian plants capable of producing nectar. They host both native and introduced birds. To the right is a ʻApapane (top) and a Japanese white-eye bird move around a vast ‘Ohi’a tree.
The Ohia lehua is a crucial early colonizing species that grows straight out of basalt. It is among the first trees that are growing on recent lava flows. It is even tolerant of extreme sulfur content found along sulfur banks on the big island. A sign along the trail mentions the severe conditions on the banks and the possibility of the ‘Ohi’a colony evolving into a distinct subspecies over generations.
Its tolerance to various growing media leads to extreme tree size variations. In favorable soil, in rainforests, it can grow to be more than 80 feet tall, while when growing in boggy ground or on freshly cooled igneous rocks, it grows as a small prostrate shrub. In wetter conditions, Ohia branches drop down aerial roots that stay suspended and absorb moisture from the air. Shown here is an enormous specimen of Ohia lehua.
Current preservation efforts for the ‘Ohi’a have faced various issues, including the curse of introduced species like ornamental/livestock feed grasses that quickly take over ‘Ohi’a forests, climate change, and the latest fungal pandemic afflicting these plants, the rapid ‘Ohi’a death. First reported in the big island of Hawaii, mitigations efforts have been taken to help stop the spread of the fungus, including closing down of forests to visitors. Humans can carry these pathogens on their shoes as they walk through the forest floor. To avoid spreading the disease, visitors should use the shoe cleaners placed along trails. Please be mindful of your presence as an outsider when you visit these unique habitats.
I was lucky enough to visit an Albatross breeding colony on the island of Oahu. A childhood dream come true!
The Laysan albatross is a large seabird that ranges across the North Pacific. More than 99% of the breeding population of the bird lives in the northern Hawaiian island, specifically in the midway atoll and Laysan islands. The species suffered a drastic population reduction in the early 1900s due to immense scale slaughter of populations for their feathers. The species is not recovering and is now classified as near threatened.
Albatross tend to bond for life. To the right is a pair of albatross settling in for the night in a grove of possible false sandalwood.
Occasionally, the birds form same-sex pairs consisting of two females. This has been observed in the colony on the Hawaiian island Oahu, where the sex ratio of male to female is 2 to 3 and 31% of all pairs are between females.