Wildlife Right Outside the Front Door
The Common Myna or Indian Myna is
fearless and can be quite noisy at times. It is not unusual for it
to occasionally perch on the railings on the lanai. This large
starling from India was introduced to Hawaii in 1865 and now is
considered to be basically endemic. It is an intelligent brown bird
with a yellow bill and shows white on its wings when it flies. They
lay pretty blue eggs.
Zebra Doves are a bit smaller brown birds that are around every day
and can be spotted walking around the yard but normally do not come
up to the lanai for a visit as the Mynas do. The larger spotted dove
is less common but is seen from time to time.
Another common bird is
the Java Finch\Sparrow which has white cheeks and a bright orange-red bill.
They remind me of a tiny version of a Puffin.
The 'Io or Hawaiian Hawk is endemic to
Hawaii but only found on the Big Island. We've seen it flying
through the Ironwood trees across the street from our home. We were
told that at one point there was a pair nesting in the trees.
In October of 2012 I was treated to a White-tailed Tropicbird flying low just off the
The Nene (Hawaiian Goose) is the world’s rarest goose and is found
only in Hawaii. We have seen them across the street hanging out on
the cliffs as well as on the higher cliffs about a half mile north
of the house. You will find them in different areas of the Island.
They are a protected species so please do not disturb them. In 1952
the population was but 30 but luckily it has been making a comeback.
In 2014 and for the first time in centuries a nesting pair have been
spotted on Oahu about 40 miles from Honolulu - bringing that
Island's population from zero to five.
Finally there are small colorful red birds and yellow birds that we
have yet to identify.
Frogs and Toads
What you hear starting around sunset are the frogs and toads. Hawaii
has no native frogs or toads – all are introduced and doing quite
well. There are three kinds of frogs that come out at night and you
should try to listen for them. Their population goes up and down
depending on the amount of rain. The most recent introduced species,
called the Coqui, is from the Caribbean, is very small and the noise
they make is very similar to their name: a two (sometimes three)
syllable squeak (koh-kwee or koh-kwee-kwee).
The second most common frog is the Hawaiian Cane toad, known elsewhere as
the bufo toad, is more melodic (tonal) and is heard every night.
They can be as big as your fist or larger and it's not
uncommon to see them hopping through the yard in the daytime.
Sometimes they hang out in the overflow tube from the catchment tank
on the north edge of the property. I've seen them sitting there as
the water washes over them. Be aware that these toads have
toxic glands that ooze when they feel threatened so don't pick them
up. Wash your hands and your children's hands thoroughly if you come
in contact with them.
Every once in a while you will hear a third frog I call the
Jackhammer because it sounds like someone using a jackhammer in the
far, far distance. These guys migrate from swimming pool to swimming
pool of the homes along the coast.
Hawaii has no squirrels but we do have the sleek very quick
manakuke, the Indian mongoose, which can grow to 2 feet in length,
including the tail. Occasionally you will see them scurrying through
the yard but it is more likely you will see them crossing the road
while you are touring the island. They were introduced to Hawaii to
control the rat population on the sugar cane plantations but that
did not work quite as well as desired as rats run around at night
and the mongoose during the day.
Geckos and Black Salamander
The beautiful small green geckos (called Gold Dust Day Gecko) with varying amounts of orange
speckles and patterns are our friends as they eat many of the insect
pests that would like to live in our home. One of the benefits of
the introduced frogs and geckos is that they help control the insect
population. That said we try not to leave the doors open so as to
keep the geckos and bugs outside.
In greater population but much harder to spot are the small black
salamander-like creatures found in the lawn. About the only time I
see these guys is when I’m mowing the yard as they panic and scurry
out of the way.
In the ocean the most common wildlife you will see are humpback
whales (November – April), spinner dolphins, and sea turtles.
The green sea turtles are here year around and can be spotted close
to shore. They are named not for the color of their shell (usually a
patterned brown) but for the color of their skin. These guys are big
- up to 700 pounds - and very gentle. You will find the turtles in many places in Hawaii. They
are almost always at Carlsmith Beach Park in Hilo. I have also seen
them napping at the bottom of the Kapoho tide pools. It is usually
quite a surprise to discover one while snorkeling. Keep in mind they
are a threatened species and should not be bothered or touched. Another threatened turtle species is the hawksbill but
there are much fewer of those.
The spinner dolphin often can be found in near-shore pods of a dozen
or more. When they are jumping “spinning” out of the water it can
really be quite a sight. The dolphins come into the bays to sleep
from 10am-2pm or so. They circle slowly on the bottom and
occasionally coming to the surface to breathe. This makes them a
target for human eco-tours. If you choose to go on a tour please be
aware that the dolphins, especially the young ones, need their rest
so they can survive the night. You can read more on this sight
The bottlenose dolphin is commonly seen on boat tours and can also
be seen off our shores swimming in pods of 2-15. If you decide to
swim with the dolphins and kiss one these are the dolphins you will
be with. If you decide to take an eco tour you might consider
calling ahead to be sure you are visiting the bottlenose dolphins
and not interfering with the spinners.
The humpback whale is the most common whale with peak viewing from
mid December through March (see below for whale watching tips)
though in 2012 the first arrived in October. Other whales found in
the waters off Hawaii are the fin, minke, Bryde's, blue, North
Pacific right whales, and sperm. You may not see any of those but
the pilot and false killer whales are spotted on boat tours.
Very rare is the Hawaiian Monk seal. It is one of the most
endangered animals in the world and most commonly found in the
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. If you see a monk seal you will be
quite lucky indeed. There is a museum in
Hilo about the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands –
Center. It’s a must visit for any nature lover. Though currently
closed it is scheduled to reopen in June 2013.
Whale watching tips
Bring your binoculars! Our neighborhood
is good for whale watching beginning in November and running into
April with the peak from mid December to the end of March. But in
truth there are whales year around just not as many. In April 2011
house guests said they saw a mother and calf come up so close they
heard the spouts.
For viewing, you can start by walking across the
street to the lava cliffs. If you walk or drive to the left about
half a mile the lava cliffs are even higher and afford a somewhat
better view of the bay. During our trips we have seen numerous
spouts, tails and even a couple breaches across the street. Whales
have been spotted from the lanai. The best viewing time is in the
late afternoon with the sun behind you. In late March 2013 at sunset
my wife and I were sitting on the cliffs across the street when we
watched a whale and her calf performing multiple breaches for 15
minutes - it was quite spectacular.
Once, we saw a whale slap the water 18 consecutive times with its
tail. We had no idea what was going but later we learned this was
called “tail lobbing”. Much of the behavior of Humpback whales
remains a mystery, and tail lobbing is no exception. It’s apparent
it has to do with communication but no one is sure if it is telling
the sharks “stay away” or something else. But for sure the sound can
be heard a long distance under water. It is really something to
Our understanding is that the humpback whales you see in the far
distance are the big males keeping an eye out and scaring away the
sharks from the young.
Black Witch Moth
Look under the eaves during the day and
you may see the large Black Witch Moth. It can be up to 6 inches in
width and is not native to Hawaii. They are harmless and act like a
bat when they fly. The female, pictured on the left can be
identified by a white stripe that the male lacks.