Taking Flight Over the Na Pali
The Na ‘Pali Coast is filled with wonder and mystery. There are miles of unexplored valleys and waterfalls. The scenery is constantly changing, with cliff sides collapsing, and coastlines eroding. Each time I get on a boat, or enter the wilderness to hike a new trail, explore a new riverbed or canyon peak, I see Kauai’s sea birds and I wonder what they have seen and if they realize they live in paradise.
Birds on Kauai range from native Hawaiian birds to birds introduced to the Hawaiian Islands throughout the years. Some are migratory, some live here their whole lives and some live at sea, keeping nests near beaches and on cliffs. This article will focus on a few choice birds found along the Na’Pali coast cliffs, caves, and valleys, as well as birds found in Kilauea on the north side of Kauai. There are many endangered species of birds found on Kauai, most importantly, the state bird, the Nene. The Na’Pali Coast, and surrounding Pacific Ocean is the perfect habitat for seabirds. By travelling long the Na’Pali Coast, we are able to get a glimpse at the lives of these free flyers.
The largest of the seabirds on Kauai, but smallest of its family is the Black-footed Albatross or Ka’upu. It can be seen on the ocean during daylight hours, hunting for fish eggs, squid, and crustaceans. This bird hunts alongside other types of birds, towering over with its 6-7ft wingspan. The black-footed Albatross is easily recognizable by a white band around its long, dark beak. The bird’s plumage is typically completely dark-gray to black, but some Black-footed Albatross have white tail feathers. From November to May, the birds nest near beaches. In monogamous pairs, they share the duty of incubating a single egg for 65 days. Because they only lay one egg a year, the Black-footed Albatross, like many other birds in Hawaii, have struggled in keeping population up.
Alongside the Albatross, a smaller, but more flamboyant bird can be seen diving into the ocean. The White-Tailed and Red-Tailed Tropic Bird or Koa’e kea is an exciting sight on the Na’Pali. With a wingspan around 3ft, this bird is quick, and precise when hunting for small fish and squid. These birds are typically all white, with either long white or red tail feathers. This boisterous breed squeaks loudly when fighting and is known to have an extravagant display when courting. The Red-tailed Tropic Bird nests are tucked away beneath vegetation on the ground while the white-tailed birds nest on high cliff sides. While these birds can often be seen along the Na’Pali Coast, they are also seen at Kilauea Point, the National Wildlife Refuge on the northeastern part of Kauai.
The Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge offers a habitat ideal for nearly all seabirds on Kauai. ‘A, or the Red-Footed Booby bird’s largest colony is at the point. The kauaiseabirdproject.org, states there are more than 2,000 breeding pairs in Kilauea. If visiting the point, it might be difficult to identify the Red-Footed Booby because of its color variation. They are usually brown or white with bright, white tail feathers. The best way to identify the bird is by looking at its red feet or its long white or even blue beak. The Red-Footed Booby is an important bird for Kauai fisherman. Their flight patterns and hunting routines are a signal to fisherman, because the birds are usually spotted following schools of predatory fish like Tuna and sometimes even sharks. While the Red-Footed Booby is the most common booby on Kauai, the Brown Booby, with yellow feet can also be seen on coastlines including Kilauea. Some birds hunt alongside the Booby Bird, following the larger fish. The most commonly sighted birds are Noddies and Terns.
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According to the Hawaiian encyclopedia.com, 60% of birds on Kauai are Noddies and Terns. The Hawaiian Noddy Tern, or Noio Koha received its name because of its gestures. As one may expect, it nods. During mating ceremonies, the male bird nods to its mate after presenting a fish to her. She then lays her eggs. The Noddy Tern builds its nest in caves, trees and on cliffs. They hunt with other birds like the Albatross and the Booby bird, but they are different than the typical seabird. The Noddy Tern lacks the necessary oil glands to keep its feathers dry. This prevents the bird from staying on the ocean for more than a few minutes at a time. Noddies are also important to the fisherman on Kauai. It is known, that when Noddy Terns are seen returning to shore, it is a signal that a storm is on its way. To spot a Hawaiian Noddy Tern, it is important to look for a very pointed, sharp beak, with a dark-gray to black body. There are many variations of the Noddy Tern in Hawaii, from white to blue to brown to black. Noddies and Terns remain prominent in Hawaii, unlike the state bird, the Nene.
The Hawaiian Goose, or Nene can be seen all over Kauai. It is not a seabird, but is important to the state of Hawaii. It also has a serious threat of extinction. While travelling around the island, it is very common to see signs that say “Nene crossing” or “Don’t feed the Nene”. The Nene can be seen all over, travelling in flocks. This goose, which looks similar to the Canadian goose, is believed to have arrived in Hawaii shortly after the islands were formed, some 500,000 years ago. Many of the birds live on lava flows and they feed primarily on vegetation like flowers, seeds, buds, leaves, fruit and plants. It is estimated that there are about 500 of these birds living in the wild. They can be seen on all the Hawaiian Islands.
There are many serious threats to all birds on Kauai, including feral cats, rats, and of course, humans. Organizations like Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project (KESRP), work with birds like the Booby and the Albatross to build population. When travelling along Na’Pali Coast, it seems like there are more than enough birds filling the skies, and nesting on cliffs, but in fact the population of each species is actually quite low. Many birds are increasingly close to extinction, which is why it is important for organizations like KESRP to step in and lend a hand in breeding. With more than 80 species of birds on Kauai alone, we are lucky that we have the chance to see these endangered seabirds nearly ever day along the coast. Flying high above the cliffs and valleys of the Na’Pali coast, diving into the crystal blue ocean, foraging on abundant amounts of fish and squid, these birds, I am confident, know they live in the ultimate paradise.
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