Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Even the Common Kauai Birds Are Exotic
June 30, 2023
by Steve Grinley
This is the second of three parts, written by my daughter Melissa Grinley. Enjoy:
That first morning on Kauai after arriving late the night before, I was pulled out of slumber by a high-pitched whooping that turned into something of a roar. For a moment I could not remember where I was, and flashed back to a camping trip, sleeping in a teepee in Eastern Oregon, listening to the coyotes in the distance. As I pulled out of sleep, I remembered: honeymoon…Kauai. Confusion. Are there coyotes on Kauai? I got up bleary-eyed to seek the source of the ruckus. Stepping out onto the lanai I saw my first birds of Kauai: Roosters. A whole herd of them, on the lawn of the resort. Who’d have believed they could make so much noise? It wasn’t the barnyard “cock-a-doodle-doo” one would expect. They were all crowing at once, trying to one-up each other, shouting, shrieking “IT’S MORNING!!” I thought of my dad. Would he be proud that I was up at 6am, birdwatching? I don’t think this is what he had in mind.
Apparently the island is overrun by them, like a Colonel Sanders’ nightmare. The legend is that Hurricane ‘Iniki, which devastated Kauai in 1992, destroyed many chicken cages on the island and set the birds free. They propagated quickly, as apparently the forest conditions on the island are perfect for them, and they now run wild everywhere. There were no places we went in our 10 days on Kauai where there weren’t chickens: beaches, inland, forests, the deep southwest-like canyon. Quite incredible, and got us up early in the morning daily.
Though deterred by this initial disappointment in exotic bird spotting, I sat on our lanai that first morning with my binoculars and coffee, waiting for something better. I didn’t have to wait long. Soon I saw a bird in a nearby tree, ruffling its feathers.
It was all black with yellow diamond markings around the eyes. I had never seen one before and it looked pretty ‘exotic’ to me. What an omen! My first day there and I was finding rare birds! I trained my binoculars and watched silently as this foreign marvel ruffled its feathers in a nearby tree. I smiled in satisfaction.
Then I saw another.
There were at least five in the tree. I started to become suspicious about how rare they could be, with so many nearby. Turns out they were Myna birds. Apparently the Myna is like the pigeon of Kauai. They’re everywhere you go. They filled the trees around our lanai. They hobbled all over the island, on the side of the road, on the tables of outdoor cafes. Once I looked them up in my guidebook, I was chagrined that even their name clearly states their banality: the ‘Common Myna.’ Common. I felt sheepish at my original sense of glory, and even how long it actually took me to see one, given that they were even nesting in the rafters outside our windows at the resort. Even worse, it took me a ridiculously long time to realize the sound of their call. It was funny, I kept thinking our neighbors were playing endless card games all night, as I kept hearing the sounds of someone hitting the card deck against a table before shuffling again and again. Turns out it was the myna birds.
Throughout the trip, I heard the songs of many types of birds. I think it is safe to say I heard many more birds than I saw. One thing about lush trees that I didn’t take into account in my initial assessment: birds can very easily hide from you. I found myself constantly hearing beautiful twittering songs, yet jerking my binocs up and scanning for the source yielded nothing. I won’t say I gave up the search, but regarding the rest of my trip, I must provide a disclaimer: It was my honeymoon, and I was lazy. My sightings are rather limited to the birds that were obvious and easy to see, either due to their proximity to the beach, our lanai, the car, or my piña coladas.
For example, the Black Swans were quite unusual, but I would have been unlikely to see them if they had not been held captive in the koi pond at the Grand Hyatt. >From the comfort of our lanai I saw finches and house sparrows, and cardinals. There were two varieties of cardinals: the red-crested and the northern varieties. I’d never seen the red-crested cardinal before. They were quite beautiful, with a white belly, gray back, and red from their chest to the crest at their crown, with a white beak. The northern cardinals were all red, but smaller than the ones I remember from growing up in New England. Both varieties were bold and came pretty close to us on the lanai. They also seem to be fond of pina coladas.
Though I was resigned to my fate of being a mediocre bird-watcher with the inability to spot creatures that were not readily obvious, I was in for a surprise later in the trip…