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When you’re hiking along a stream in the Alakaʻi, you wouldn’t expect to hear the sound of a rusty door hinge. Prior to our last trip into the field, a week camping at Halepaʻakai, we had only heard this specific bird call on the recordings made by David Kuhn. The rusty hinge sound belongs to one of the most distinctive birds on Kauaʻi, the ‘iʻiwi, known for its bright red feathers and long, curved bill. Historically, it was considered a prized bird by Hawaiian royalty, and hunted for its feathers to make cloaks, quilts and helmets. ‘Iʻiwi are highly susceptible to avian malaria, and we had not yet seen one during our time with KFBRP. Because of the ‘Iʻiwi’s reputation as the jewel of the forest, it had become a slight obsession of our crew to see one before our season was over.
It was day three of our trip, and Tyler had taken us up to one of the canyons near camp to band. Emily and I went to check one of the nets, and both stopped dead in our tracks when we heard that hinge sound coming from directly above us. That was one of the first moments we’d had where we were both able to immediately identify a bird call without the help of one of the permanent staff. It was such a cool moment because we were both equally excited to have identified the bird on our own and to have even heard an ‘iʻiwi call because they are so rare on Kauaʻi. Though we didn’t manage to band that ʻiʻiwi that trip, it was nice to know that they were out there.
I also think this moment was so special because it showed us that we had learned a lot more than we realized in our time with Kauaʻi Forest Birds, including how to identify an ‘iʻiwi call.