This is not somebody’s rooster. He didn’t escape to the wild but he has the same ancestors as the chickens we humans domesticated about 8,000 years ago for meat and eggs.
Red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) are native to India and east Asia but were introduced to Indonesia, the Phillippines and Polynesia where they remain wild today. When humans first came to Hawaii in 400 AD they brought red junglefowl with them. The birds walked into the jungle and felt right at home.
If you want to see a Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) Hawaii is the place to be. 99.7% of the species nests on the Hawaiian island chain. Midway Atoll holds the largest albatross colony on earth.
Most of the world’s 22 albatross species live on the southern oceans but the Laysan albatross is one of three that occurs exclusively in the northern hemisphere. Compared to most, the Laysan is relatively small. The wandering albatross has a wingspan of nearly 10 feet. The Laysan’s wingspan is 6.4 to 6.6 feet, about the size of a bald eagle.
Albatrosses spend their lives roaming the open ocean feeding on squid and fish near the surface of the waves. They are built to soar, but they don’t fly high. Their long wingspan allows them to soar dynamically near the ocean surface with a minimum of effort. In this way they fly 10,000 miles a year.
Albatrosses only visit land to nest. When not nesting, the Laysan albatross covers the range shown below, leaving Hawaii for Mexico, California, Alaska, Kamchatka, Japan, and the Phillipines.
Named in 1893 for Laysan Island, where the species was first collected, their favorite nesting site is at Midway Atoll, a group of three islands near the northwestern edge of the island chain.
Wisdom was banded as an adult at Midway in 1956. Since her species cannot breed until it’s five years old and usually delays breeding until age seven or eight, Wisdom is at least 68 years old now, possibly older than 70. Though not on a webcam this year, her fame spread in the past when her nest was visible online.
Most Laysan albatrosses breed every other year but Wisdom returns to Midway annually to court with her mate Akeakamai, lay her single egg, and take turns incubating the egg and raising their chick. This season she laid her egg around 29 November 2018.
It takes two adults eight months to raise a Laysan albatross chick. They mate for life but when there’s a shortage of males two females will team up to raise one chick per year. Read about this unusual solution at: Ladies Make Do in a Pinch.
Laysan albatrosses typically live 40 years but their delayed breeding age and single chick in 1-2 years means it takes at least 10 years for a Laysan albatross pair to replace themselves.
Our tour won’t be visiting Midway but we’ll see Laysan albatrosses today at Kileauea Point on the island of Kauai.
(photo credits: Albatross in flight by Bettina Arrigoni on Flickr with Creative Commons license. Range map from Wikimedia Commons. Midway Atoll map from USGS. Wisdom and Akeakamai photos from USFWS Pacific on Flickr. Click on the captions to see the originals)
Tour Day 3: Travel from Oahu to Kauai and its north shore refuges, Kileauea Point
White terns (Gygis alba) are immaculate white seabirds with long blue-black beaks and a buoyant erratic flight. They live in the tropical Pacific, Indian and south Atlantic Oceans where their wide range and physical characteristics give them many names including common fairy terns, angel terns and manu-o-Ku in Hawaii. Surprisingly, Gygis alba are more closely related to noddies than to terns so they’re technically white noddies.
White terns first caught my attention when I learned about their nesting strategy. They’re at the extreme end of Birds That Don’t Build Nests. The female lays her single egg on a thin bare tree branch without any nesting material.
She tries to place it in a fork or natural depression but the egg is always in danger of blowing away. If it does, she quickly cycles and lays another one.
If it hatches, the chick is equipped with long claws and strong webbed feet to hang on in the wind. In this way white terns can raise up to three chicks per year.
Today our tour will spend time in Kapiolani Park so I’m sure to see white terns. For the first time in my life I’ll see fairies.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
As I mentioned yesterday, our Hawaiian tour checklist has 108 birds on it of which 46 are introduced. Yes, 42% of the birds we expect to see would not be in Hawaii if people hadn’t brought them there.
The red-crested cardinal (Paroaria coronata), above, is one of them. A member of the tanager family native to northern Argentina, Bolivia, southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay in South America, he was introduced to Hawaii in 1928. Being a land-based bird, he was stuck on the islands as soon as he got off the boat but he’s made himself at home in disturbed habitats and urban parks. Fortunately he’s not considered invasive so I’ll be happy to see him in Hawaii.
On the other hand, two bulbul species introduced to Hawaii in the 1960’s are not a happy sighting. Both have become invasive.
The red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) is a prolific resident breeder of the Indian subcontinent who’s been introduced in tropical areas around the world. On the Pacific islands he’s become invasive and is now one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species — a dubious distinction.
Red-vented bulbuls are easily found in urban Honolulu.
The red-whiskered bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus) is a fruit-eating bird of tropical Asia who’s not in the top 100 pests worldwide, but he’s invasive in Hawaii.
The two bulbul species made a difference in a very short time. According to Wikipedia, they changed the color of monarch butterflies in Hawaii over a period of just 20 years. The bulbuls prefer to eat orange-colored monarchs so orange ones are scarce now and white morphs are common.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
Today three friends and I are flying to Hawaii for a 10-day birding trip with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. I’m sure to see many Life Birds including the State Bird of Hawaii, the nene or Hawaiian goose (Branta sandvicensis) pictured above.
Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959 but it’s very different from the rest of the United States. Located in the north Pacific Ocean more than 2,400 miles from the nearest continent, it’s the most isolated place in the world.
Hawaii’s land mass (10.9K sq mi) is slightly larger than Massachusetts but Hawaii is still growing. The island chain exists because of a volcanic hotspot under the Pacific plate. As the plate moves northwestward, the hotspot keeps bubbling up into new volcanoes. The older islands have extinct volcanoes. The newest island, the Big Island of Hawai’i, is where all the action is. It grows when lava flows to the sea.
In May 2018 Kilauea erupted explosively and increased Hawai’i’s size, causing evacuations and flight cancellations. (Airborne ash can choke airplane engines.) Fortunately Kilauea is quieter right now.
Because its elevation reaches nearly 14,000 feet, Hawaii’s climate is site-specific, from the tropics at sea level to winter snow on Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The windward side of the islands is wet (northeast), the wind shadow side is dry (southwest).
The nene is one of them. Listed as Vulnerable it looks like a fancy brant because it is descended from ancestors of Canada geese that arrived on the islands about 500,000 years ago. In isolation this goose became a new species.
Our checklist has 108 birds found on the three islands we’re going to visit: Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawai’i. (VENT tour map below)
With a 5-hour time zone difference and a dawn to dusk birding schedule, I know that my Internet access will be unpredictable so I’ve written all 10 days of blog posts in advance. My husband Rick (who’s too near-sighted to go birding) is holding down the fort at home and posting my blogs to Facebook and Twitter. I’ll moderate your comments daily when I get access to WiFi.
For now, I’m mostly off the grid. I’ll “see” you when I return to my computer on Monday morning, March 10.
(photos and U.S. map from Wikimedia Commons. Tour map from Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. Click on the captions to see the originals)