Here’s the penultimate installment in my series on Kaua’i’s native forest birds. (Yep, there’s that few of them.) A table of contents will be included in the forthcoming final post when I’m back from the field in another week or so.
The Puaiohi or Small Kaua’i Thrush (Myadestes palmeri) is actually one of the larger of Kaua’i native forest birds. (In case you’re wondering, the Large Kaua’i Thrush is extinct.) It’s a secretive dweller of the narrow, steep-sided jungle streams that thread their way through the central mountains, where it feeds mainly on fruit, like the Hawaiian raspberry or akala.
Not a honeycreeper like most of the forest birds I’ve written about but a relative of the American Robin and European blackbird, the Puaiohi is rotund and comparatively long-tailed. Its dull grey plumage—scalloped with black in younger birds—makes it difficult to see, but its hoarse, croaking call rings out above the babble of flowing streams. Its song, in contrast, is sweet and melodious, as you’d expect from a thrush. It also nests in embankments over streams, rarely in trees as the honeycreepers do. This habitat requirement makes studying these birds challenging, as much of their habitat is extremely inaccessible to humans. This may be a blessing, though, because that also means it’s somewhat inaccessible to pigs—but it’s no obstacle to rats or mosquitoes, the largest threats to Hawaiian avifauna.
The Puaiohi was the first of Kaua’i’s endemic forest birds to be federally listed as endangered. A captive breeding and release program has supplemented the wild population for several years now. Here’s a short video depicting scientists monitoring recently released captive-bred birds (“at a camp we can’t show you for its protection”).
While Puaiohi do live rather close to the trails in Koke’e State Park, they’re difficult to see unless you walk along the stream itself. (Don’t do this. Stay on the trails.) If you keep your ears open, though, you might hear one—and it might even be one of the captive-raised birds learning to live in the wild.