Thursday, September 17, 2015

Land of the Lost, the Birds of Hawaii: A Blog Series

Hawai'i is one of the most isolated landmasses on planet Earth. Surrounded by thousands of miles of open water, it's kind of amazing that any animals or plants thrive there at all. Instead, the islands have an incredibly diverse and complex ecosystem. Most of the endemic species in the United States occur on these small islands (endemic species are those that are found nowhere else in the world) . When plants and insects are included, the number of species are in the thousands.
How did all these species get here? The answer is...strange. They didn't all get here. A few of them got here, and the survivors changed and evolved into new species better adapted to the new environment they faced on the islands. Hawaii as a laboratory for evolution is in many ways the equal of the more famous (to biologists and geologists) Galapagos Islands.
Hawaii truly is the land of the lost. The animals that reached these islands prior to human colonization were blown off course and somehow survived a harrowing journey of several thousand miles over the unforgiving sea. Millions of birds of birds have become lost over the oceans through the endless years, and only a vanishingly small percentage are ever lucky enough to make landfall. The rest perish. By one estimate I've seen, a new bird species arrives by natural processes only once every 20,000 years.

The birds of Hawai'i were one of the nicest discoveries of my six visits to the islands. I can point to my Hawaiian experiences as the beginning of my interest in birding. I find their stories to be fascinating, and I am looking forward to seeking them out again. I'll have a chance (and so will you) next summer, as we will be offering a field studies course on the islands from June 1-14, 2016. To celebrate the coming trip (and I guess to celebrate one year of bird blogging), I'm going to be offering a series of posts on the birds of Hawaii, both the native species and some of the interesting invaders as well.
It being my habit to be easily distracted, the series will be off and on as I get the time. I hope you'll enjoy! Aloha!

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