Tuesday, February 1, 2011

‘Io, ‘Io, it’s off to hunt I go…

The names of Hawai’ian birds are so melodious. I love to say them: “I’iwi, Apapane, Ou.” And then there’s the ‘Io – a name given, no doubt, because of the bird’s high-pitched cry. The ‘Io, otherwise known as the Hawai’ian Hawk (Buteo solitarius), is the only hawk found in our fiftieth state. Osprey and Peregrine Falcon are rare vagrants from time to time, but the ‘Io is the island group’s only endemic.

Few of Hawai’i’s native bird species remain, and most of those are on the brink of extinction. Some, like the Nene goose, are benefiting from strong conservation efforts. Classified as endangered, the ‘Io is found only on the “Big Island,” Hawai’i. Hope for an increase in the population is marginal, as a breeding pair usually manages to fledge only a single chick, and competition with humans for appropriate habitat grows daily. The diet of the Hawai’ian Hawk includes insects, rodents, and birds.
About the size of a Broad-winged Hawk, the ‘Io in flight has an interesting “jizz.” From below, the bird’s silhouette is a little like that of a soaring Red-shouldered Hawk, with slightly forward-pointing wings. Bulging secondaries resemble those on a Red-tail. The tail is only finely barred and pale grey or taupe. In profile, this hawk soars with a distinct dihedral, and in some ways made me think of Zone-tailed Hawk. Hawai’ian Hawk has dark and light color morphs. On a recent trip to the Big Island I saw at least two, possibly three ‘Ios, all dark morphs. For a great look at a light-phase bird feasting on one of the ubiquitous [introduced] Common Mynas check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dx5GX1ajE1g&feature=youtube_gdata_player

dark phase Hawai'ian Hawk photo above by W.Fogleman, January 2011

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