Wedgetail shearwater nesting on Huelo Islet.

Wedgetail shearwater at nest on Huelo Islet.

Photo by Ken Wood, National Tropical Botanical Garden.


Today a birdwatcher’s impression of Kalaupapa is likely to be a disappointing list of alien species, and none of native forest birds. This is true because even the rare patches of native habitat are at low enough elevations to allow non-native mosquitoes (carrying lethal alien bird diseases).

But there are intriguing remnants—the tiny loulu forest atop Huelo Islet till has dense colonies of shearwaters, protected for centuries by its steep cliffs and tiny (i.e., overlooked) summit from total harvest by humans, rats, and cats. In prehistoric times similar lowland loulu forests were widespread with dense colonies of petrels, shearwaters, and albatross—now lost from early Polynesians clearing and burning the native forest to make way for their agriculture.

Did You Know?