Akikiki photo credit Jack Jeffreys

Mid-Season Field Stories

(From the notebook of KFBRP seasonal field assistant Derek Harvey)

The Alaka’i is producing more rainy weather with each visit, but our field crew is rising to the occasion by finding more nests! Watching wild bird behavior is both an amazing and entertaining experience and these activities also serve as helpful clues to aid researchers find nests in the field.  Here are some highlights of cool behaviors of Kaua’i’s native birds from our most recent trip.

As our project well knows, the akeke’e is a tricky bird to find consistently and even harder to follow to their secretive nest. One of our crew members found a pair and got to see the male perform a courtship dance similar to the popular hokey-pokey. After the performance ended, she kept her binoculars on both birds’ movements and followed them straight to the nest they were building! Recognizing the significance of this exciting courtship behavior helped our crew find the first akeke’e nest of the season at this site!

Another day we found some exciting activity by the always charming ‘akikiki, aka Kaua’i creeper. Usually seen in pairs, this episode involved five birds settling a territorial dispute in a battle royale with the winning pair getting access to the best nest sites. “The Battle of Five Creepers” was a noisy and energetic affair, but follow-up on the outcome will help us determine locations where one pair’s territory ends and another’s begins. We also can’t help but wonder what the fifth unpaired bird will do.

One time during this trip I spotted an ‘akikiki with a piece of moss in its bill: a telltale sign that this bird is constructing a nest nearby. Sure enough we found that this pair had just started building an early nest platform. As we watched them go about their building, the female and male provided us with some comedic behavior. Their routine involved one bird delicately placing nest material, only to have the mate compulsively move the twig or moss to another location. Instead of coordinating their efforts to build, this pair seemed to be on different wavelengths because their constant rearrangement resulted in much of the nest material falling to the forest floor! Since females and males are identical in appearance, we couldn’t tell which sex was doing what, but our crew imagined some creative dialogue interpreting what was the cause of this funny pair’s dysfunctional building.

And then there are some unusual behaviors that aren’t particularly helpful to our work, but that still are fascinating to watch. A Kaua’i ‘elepaio nest we found on this trip was so large compared to what the species normally builds we dubbed it “the Ark”. Maybe they are “expecting” an especially large clutch of eggs but we won’t know for sure until they start laying!

I hope everyone can appreciate these field stories and that we will share more experiences witnessing exciting bird behaviors. All of us at KFBRP and our supporters work hard to ensure these birds will be around for future generations to enjoy!