Feral birds at the Honolulu Zoo

Watching the bird life at the Honolulu Zoo is an interesting thing. Certainly the zoo’s collection of birds is quite impressive. But from an urban birder’s perspective, the zoo is interesting in another way. Simply put, the zoo’s feral bird guild has all the common stalwarts plus a few neat guys which are harder to see elsewhere in Honolulu.

As many of you know, the introduced bird fauna in Hawai’i is a haphazard smorgasbord from various branches of the avian clade. We have Austronesian doves, Eurasian sparrows, American cardinals among others. Just about all of them can be found at the Honolulu Zoo. Here, one of the ubiquitous Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) is stalking for prey. They are a particular nuisance at the zoo because they steal food from the bird exhibits.

Another bird that is also a nuisance is actually native. You can just make it out in the background of the egret shot…

‘Auku’u or Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax hoactli) are the native Hawaiian population of the American species. Aside from the zoo, they are actually fairly easy to see along the canal makai of the Ala Moana Mall. Gotta love them tilapias!

These two birds can be easily seen  elsewhere in Honolulu, what about something different?

Most grassy lawns in Hawai’i will have flocks of granivorous birds of some sort. Usually it’s some type of waxbill or mannakin. On zoo grounds and the adjacent Kapi’olani Park, another species is seen as well. This is the Yellow-fronted Canary (Serinus mozambicus). Originally from Africa, this species is found on O’ahu, Moloka’i, and Hawai’i. Here on O’ahu they are fairly localized; the zoo is probably the best place to see them.

By far people’s favorite feral bird on zoo grounds are the peacocks. Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) have been transplanted across the world. Many people enjoy their stunning feathers as well as their extravagant mating rituals. It’s a shame their beauty is almost taken for granted; many people pine for the looks of extinct birds like the Paradise Parrot (Psephotus pulcherrimus), Carolina Parakeet (Conuropis carolinensis) or the Mohoids of Hawai’i. Yet these extant peafowl probably have the gaudiest appearance of any bird, past or present. They’re under-appreciated in their own time!

The last bird I wanted to highlight is actually common just about anywhere on O’ahu with enough of a canopy. These are an adult and juvenile White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus). With the lack of cover, they’re not seen too often in town itself. At the zoo there is a small but conspicuous population mainly because of the adult photoed above. This is Pops, a male shama at least 10 years of age. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting his acquaintance during my time as a volunteer at the zoo. I’ve witness firsthand his boldness and cheekiness around humans. I have also witness his…fecundity. One summer, he raised 4 broods to fledging. That poor female! Their alarm calls are a little harsh, but they have some of the prettiest songs of any bird here. Shamas are rare mimics too. Such enchanting little guys.

So that about wraps it up. Next time your at the zoo, check out some of the feral birds. There are some surprising species there. And if you’re by the Savannah aviary and hear a shama singing the first few notes of “La Cucaracha”, make sure you tell Pops I said hello.

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