Tuesday, June 28, 2016

'Io, the Hawaiian Hawk at the Pololu Valley on the Big Island

It was on my very first trip to the Hawaiian Islands that I started paying attention to birds, in large part because of the presence of a Hawaiian Hawk, or 'Io, at the Hilo Zoo. It immediately raised questions, mainly, how in the world did a hawk get to Hawai'i? They aren't shorebirds, and they can't swim, so at least once, a small group (or a pregnant female) got knocked off course, and kept soaring until they were lucky enough to sight land. Ever since the day I saw the Hawaiian Hawk (Buteo solitarius) at the zoo in 2002, I've wanted to see one in the wild. It took a long time.
I was with my students a few weeks ago at the Pololu Valley trailhead at the north end of the Big Island when I heard an unearthly screeching from right over my head in a coconut tree. I looked up and saw what I momentarily assumed was a pigeon, but in a split second I realized it was too big. I was trying to recall what kind of large bird would be perched in a coconut tree when it struck me: Hawk! I was immediately struggling to bring my camera around, but a pair of Common Myna Birds didn't want the hawk around. They chased it away before I snapped more than a pair of pictures. I got one of the hawk soaring above.
Although fossils of the hawk are known from Kaua'i, Moloka'i, and Oahu, they only live today on the Big Island, where they feed on insects, birds, and introduced rats. They are on the endangered species list, but their population seems to be stable at around 3,000 for the last 20 years. 
Hawaiian Hawk in the Hilo Zoo (2002)

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