Birdwatching at ‘Iolani Palace

I had some time to check out an interesting spot to watch some birds. ‘Iolani Palace is mere blocks from busy Chinatown and Downtown Honolulu. But even though it’s in the heart of a dense urban area, the palace does have some interesting birds.

The grounds do have the usual urban birds: Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis), Rock Pigeons (Columba livia), Zebra Doves (Geospelia striata), Red-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus cafer), House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), among others. These birds are very common in an around the human environs. Although the Java Sparrow populations seemed to have declined in town. Here’s a picture that I took of a Zebra Dove to represent the group:

But there is a feral bird found at the palace that isn’t as common as the others. It’s the Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri).

The psittaculini radiation of parrots mostly of Asian distribution, but the Rose-ringed Parakeet is one of the species that is found outside of that ranged in Africa. It has natural disjointed populations in India as well. This species has a long history of domestication with humans and has been well established in Hawai’i for quite some time. While the calls are loud, at least they are less screechy than other parrots (I’m looking at you Sun Conures!)

It is not all feral birds though. There are 2 native birds found at the ‘Iolani Palace. Yeah, I wish it was Thambetochen xanion and Moho apicalis too. We’ll take what we can get. It’s 2 species of seabirds that, for the most part, overlap in their time here briefly.

Kolea or Pacific Golden Plovers (Pluvialis fulva) luckily seem to do just fine with all the crazy human-induced environmental upheavals in the past 200 years. They can be found in just about any open area during the winter months here.

While Kolea are common thoughout the state, White Terns or Manu O Ku (Gygis alba) have a much more curious distribution. While abundant in the northwest Hawaiian Islands, in the main islands Manu O Ku are only common in Honolulu of all places. The terns were probably common in the main islands in the past, but it seems they recolonized O’ahu around 1961. Unlike the wintering plovers, they are here to breed in the spring and summer.

This little chick is perhaps a few weeks old. I was lucky to notice it; the bird was sitting in a patch of sunlight for a little while before moving back into the shade.

Manu O Ku are actually one of the inspirations for this blog. The habitat alterations that started when humans first arrived in the chain which accelerated in the past 200 years greatly impoverished the native biota. O’ahu, with close to a million people, has been especially hard hit. So the fact that these little terns, for some reason, have been able to do well in such a different environment is a wonderful aberration to me. You don’t have to watch some exotic David Attenborough special to enjoy these birds, just hop on TheBus, sit in horrendous traffic, and watch the birds soar through the air like they’ve been doing in Hawai’i for thousands of years.

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3 Responses to Birdwatching at ‘Iolani Palace

  1. XJ says:

    On our way to Mokapu’u yesterday we drove by Kailua Intermediate School and I was shocked to see two Ae’o hanging out with a kolea in the freshly mowed grass! It may not be their natural habitat but it’s great to see that they can adapt.

  2. Pingback: Downtown is for the Birds | HBiz Blog

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