The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands

As everywhere in the country, the previous two CBCs for the Hawai`i and Pacific regions were conducted with a mind for avoiding Covid-19.  This year, restrictions had eased up appreciably, so that life and the CBC returned to normal, whatever that may be now.  Only one circle was missed in CBC 123:  the Rota Circle in the Marianas.


Let’s begin with seabirds.  Since the removal of rats from Midway Atoll, the Bonin Petrel population there has rebounded and is now estimated in the hundreds of thousands; the awesome evening swarm of these birds returning to nest fills the sky, as enumerated by this year’s record count of 12,068 birds.  The only nesting pair of Short-tailed Albatross on Midway, George and Geraldine, were joined this year by their 4-year-old offspring, inspiring hope for a growing Short-tail colony.  A tally of 90 White Terns, the official “City Bird” of Honolulu, was the highest yet for that circle. 


High counts of Hawaii’s state bird, the Nene, also keep on coming:  this year with 209 for Lihue, Kaua`i and 61 for the North Kona Circle, Big Island, although these records may simply reflect expanded coverage.  This winter season was particularly good for rare species of migratory waterfowl.  A Greater White-fronted Goose showed up on Midway. Two Blue-winged Teal scored a second record for the Waimea Circle, Kaua`i.  On the same island, the Waipio Circle, reported three Gadwall.  Three Greater Scaup were the first CBC records for a Midway CBC, and two more were second records for Kapa`a, Kaua`i.  Bufflehead made an admirable showing with two at Lihue; one on the I`ao Circle, Maui; and one on the Hilo Circle, Big Island.  But perhaps the most exciting find, though not a true waterfowl per se, was an immature Common Gallinule on Midway.  While its coloration hinted that it might be a vagrant from North America, rather than originating from the main Hawaiian Islands, the bird can’t be assigned to subspecies at this time.  The only rare vagrant raptor this year was a Northern Harrier from Waipio, one of the few hawk species to regularly visit the islands.


Native forest birds continue to be sparse in the mountains of Kauai, where warmer temperatures are bringing mosquitoes and disease to these birds’ last retreat.  This year, only the “common” five native species were reported (no endangered species), and even then only Kauai Elepaio and Apapane were tallied in double digit figures (20 and 76, respectively).  The Big Island has fared far better, with all native forest birds accounted for on the Volcano CBC, including four Akiapolaau, an Alawi (Hawaii Creeper), and three Hawaii Akepa.


Introduced birds remain a focus of the CBC in Hawai`i because of their prevalence in the Islands.  Chukar partridges seem to have given up ground around the state to Erckel’s Spurfowl and other gamebirds, so it’s interesting to note one reported from Waimea Circle on Kauai, where the species still holds on in a few dry gulches (and occasional new releases are possible).  Meanwhile, feral chickens (Red Junglefowl, domestic type), once abundant only on Kaua`i, have exploded in numbers on the other islands near towns, where they are often supported by handouts.  High counts of 445 for Honolulu and 101 for North Kona reflect this trend.  Supplemental feeding may also be to blame for the record 881 feral pigeons reported from Honolulu and 205 in Hilo.  Parrots, attracted to bird feeders, are on the rise, too.  Rose-ringed Parakeets scored highest-ever counts on three Hawaiian CBC circles: six at Waimea, an eye-popping 2640 leaving a roost in Lihue, and 151 at Waipio.  Red-crowned Parrots slowly but surely grow their population on O`ahu, with a high count of 360 reported from Waipio.  Lastly, Red-masked Parakeets in Honolulu turned in a high count of 307 birds. Two estrildid finches are expanding, also.  On Kaua`i and Maui, where the Common Waxbill is a recent arrival, high count this year of 63 birds at Lihue and 14 birds at I`ao were reported, respectively.  Lastly, another new arrival to Kaua`i, Red Avadavat, tallied a high count of 54 birds at Lihue.


The Mariana Islands CBCs, while reporting usual counts of expected species, turned up few surprises this year.  Two Black-naped Terns on the Dededo circle and a Little Ringed Plover on the Southern Guam circle were highlights, but the real rarity was a gull seen and photographed on Ritidian Beach that could not be positively identified to species, though experts narrowed the bird down to Slaty-backed, hybrid, or possibly “Vega” Herring Gull.