My concept for this realm is all those offshore oceanic islands -- well
separated from the major continents -- which host birds other than strictly
pelagic species. My concept of "Oceanic Islands Realm" are those islands
so far from the continents that they have developed their own own distinctive
avifauna. The vast majority of these islands are tropical, and the most
prominent from the perspective of unique birds are Madagascar, New Zealand,
and New Caledonia. In addition, this realm includes many island chains
that are far offshore. Prominent among them from a birding perspective
are Hawaii, the Galapagos, the Marianas, Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia
and other Pacific islands, and in the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles, Réunion,
and Mauritius. The few landbirds on Gough and Tristan da Cunha in the south
Atlantic would also qualify. My collage of images are:
These Oceanic Islands have many endemic landbird species, and some of them
have the most endangered species on earth. Habitat loss and introduced
competitors, predators and diseases threaten all small-island avifaunas.
Virtually all of the native birds of Guam have been lost, many Hawaiian
species have gone extinct and others are on the edge, and the famous Dodo
was exterminated by the first men to reach Mauritius. To me, these threatened
islands are very special places, deserving of attention in their own right.
[Of course, there are many great islands that are considered part of a
continental shelf and share much of their avifauna with the continent.
Many of these are considered part of Asia (Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan,
Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, and the Sunda chain) but others are considered
part of the Nearctic (the Caribbean islands), or the Neotropics (like Trinidad),
or the Western Palearctic (Great Britain, Ireland, Cypress, etc.), or Africa
(Sao Tomé, etc.)].
(top) Highlands heath in bloom in Tongariro Nat'l Park, North Island, New
Zealand, 27 Dec 1997.
(next to top) Rainbow over Lake Yaté, Parc de la Riviére
Bleue, New Caledonia, 8 Jan 1998.
(3d row left) Silversword on Haleakala crater, Maui, Hawaii, in Sep 1989.
(3d row right) Galapagos Tortoise in the hills of Santa Cruz I., Galapagos,
25 Sep 1989.
(4th row left) Cultural show on Ponape, Micronesia, in Sep 1978.
(4th row right) Approaching storm at Truk Lagoon, Micronesia (that's me
watching; photo by B. B. Roberson).
(5th row left) SCUBA-diving in Truk Lagoon, Micronesia (me & fish;
photo by B. B. Roberson).
(5th row right) Row of baobabs, Ishfay (north of Tulear), southwestern
Madagascar, 20 Nov 1992.
(bottom left) Coco de Mar Palm (largest palmnut in the world), Praslin
I., Seychelles, 12 Nov 1992.
(bottom right) Isalo Masif, south-central Madagascar (country that surprisingly
reminded me of Utah), 22 Nov 1992. All photos © D. Roberson,
except those attributed to my dad, B. B. Roberson.
Ten families are entirely endemic to the Oceanic Island realm, some
of them among the most wonderful birds on earth:
Handbook: New Zealand is the only large oceanic island with a
handbook series underway; it is included with Australia and the Antarctic
in Marchant & Higgins (1991) and following volumes. They are reviewed
on the Australasia
page. The Hawaiian Islands are included within the Birds of North America
project (Poole et al. 1990 and on-going) and fascicles of some Hawaiian
species are available (e.g., 'Akepa by Lepson & Freed 1997); this series
is reviewed on the Nearctic
page. A lot of information about native Hawaiian birds is in Scott et al.
Field Guides: The only major field guide that covers a big chunk
of this realm is Pratt et al's (1987) A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii
and the Tropical Pacific. This is a superb modern guide with outstanding
plates and the most recent taxonomy. It covers Hawaii
and a huge area of the Pacific -- west to the Marianas (Guam
et al.) and Palau; south to Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga; and southeast as far
as the Marquesas, Pitcairn, and Ducie I. (but not Easter I.). Basically
one can think of it as Hawaii, Micronesia, and Polynesia. It does not,
however, cover Melanesia (Solomons or Vanuatu). For the remainder of the
realm, the guides are:
Journals: There is no journal covering these areas which is of more
than local interest. The 'Eleipao is a fine paperback journal for
Hawaii (with peer-reviewed articles), and there are local bird-club newsletters
in New Zealand and presumably elsewhere.
For New Zealand, a very good new guide
& mini-handbook by Heather & Robertson (1996). It far surpasses
the guides previously available. Its only drawback is its expense in the
U.S. -- I tried to order the hardcover from a bookseller here and was quoted
$90. I found a hardcover copy in the Auckland airport bookshop for under
For the Galapagos, there is a new guide
that I've not seen (Castro & Phillips 1997) that likely surpasses the
old standard Harris (1974) which was adequate but unreliable in separating
out the ground-finches and for anything challenging, like seabirds.
For the northern Solomons, Hadden (1981)
has descriptions of all species and photos of some, but must be a hard
book to locate. Frankly, I have no idea what one does for the rest of the
Melanesia except to use Pratt et al. (1987) for the widespread species
and research all the endemics in family books. [A new guide is in press.]
For New Caledonia, there is a two-volume
set in French (Hannecart & Letocart 1980, 1983) which is very inadequate,
even if you can read French. The books are aimed at a general non-birding
audience and are there organized by habitats; the i.d. stuff is very brief
(in fact, all text is short); and the illustrations are all photos of varying
quality (no field guide plates at all). The translated English names are
a joke. But one can get by quite adequately because there aren't that many
species involved. [I just had my local library obtain them via inter-library
loan and then made xeroxes of important pages]. A new field guide in English
will apparently be out soon, and will surely be a major improvement.
For Madagascar, the standard field
guide & mini-handbook is the rather heavy Langrand (1990), an okay
guide for native birds (hopeless for shorebirds, accipiters, etc.), but
now one is well-advised to supplement it with the reasonably lightweight
photographic guide by Morris & Hawkins (1998). This has an outstanding
collection of photos of all species (a few in-the-hand, but most in-the-wild).
For the other Indian Ocean islands -- Mauritius,
Réunion, Seychelles, Comoros -- there is a new (1998)
guide by Ian Sinclair & Olivier Langrand (who have done guides to South
Africa and Madagascar, respectively) that I have not seen, but I suspect
will be a major improvement over what I used during my visit: Michel (1992)
for Mauritius (mostly just a collection of average photos), Barré
& Barau (1982) for Réunion (the best field guide of the previous
lot, but only in French), and the outdated Penny (1974) for the Seychelles.
For the south Atlantic islands of Tristan da Cunha
and Gough, Watson (1975) has color plates of the species.
If one is only visiting Hawaii, in
addition to the Pratt et al. (1987) field guide described above, the Hawaii
Audubon's pocket guide (Shallenberger 1986 or later reincarnation) is user-friendly,
and is well worth obtaining just to marvel at Doug Pratt's paintings of
the endangered forest birds (the original paintings, as I understand it,
hang in the Hawaii State Capitol).
Non-bird Book [nature / exploration / science]: An exceptional
book that all birders should read -- if only to understand the process
of evolution better -- is Jonathan Weiner's (1994) The Beak of the Finch.
It is the story of Peter & Rosemary Grant's research in the Galapagos
on Darwin's finches (on the deserted island called Daphne Major). This
Pulitzer prize winning book details not only some most unexpected research
results, but reads like a novel in telling the human story of grinding
out scientific study on a lonely, isolated and yet lovely place.
BEST BIRDS [see my explanation for choosing
My choices for the 7 "best birds" in the Oceanic Island realm follow.
The first few surely would be universal choices, but after that it gets
difficult to choose between so many fine birds. Left out are any mesites
or asities in Madagascar (not to mention such endangered species as the
White-winged Ibis Lophotibis crestata and Madagascar Red Owl Tyto
soumagnei), the Pink Pigeon Columba mayeri of Mauritius, the
Saddleback Creadion carunculatus and Takahe Porphyrio mantelii
of New Zealand, the Golden Dove Ptilinopus lueovirens of Fiji, and
many Hawaiian honeycreepers (but see a brief discussion of an "extra" pick
following the 7 which made it into the "top 50" list:
plus, if I could have another choice in this category, I might chose one
of Hawaiian honeycreepers such as:
Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus rare, exotic, unusual &
strange -- everything one could ever want in a bird is found in the Kagu,
a ground-dwelling near-mythical species endemic to New Caledonia. I'll
have much more about it on my Kagu page, but suffice it to say that, until
recently, it was entirely misunderstood. It is a diurnal species that lives
in extended family groups, not the nocturnal species all the older books
say it is. It has come back from the brink of extinction due to a tremendous
effort at predator control and much research into its biology. Among birds,
it is creme de la creme.
Kakapo Strigops habroptilus The largest and perhaps
strangest parrot in the world, this flightless, nocturnal beast with lekking
behavior (the males "boom" from a bowl on the ground) is almost extinct.
It was extirpated by introduced predators throughout its native range in
New Zealand; the last truly wild birds were on Stewart Island. All 37 Kakapo
known to exisit in 1987-1992 were translocated to predator-free Little
Barrier Island (Collar et al. 1994) where the world population hovers around
50 birds. Little Barrier Island may only be reached via permit and boat
arrangements, but even that won't help one see this bird. Only researchers
are allowed into the protected area where these few survive. There are
hopes for further translocations in the future if the population expands.
Long-tailed Ground-Roller Uratelornis chimaera I'm
not sure how this wraith got the name chimaera, but it is a good
choice. It is a quiet and shy species of the spiny desert in southwestern
Madagascar. Laying eggs in burrows in the ground, it combines the look
of a roadrunner with the metallic-blue wing-coverts of pittas. Stuart Keith
(1974) included it with the Congo Peafowl and Great Argus pheasant as among
the world's most impressive and yet elusive birds in the world. Since then
seeing one has been high on my lists of desires; you can read the story
of an eventual success on the Ground-Roller
any Kiwi Apteryx sp. there are three kiwis endemic
to New Zealand, all nocturnal and difficult to observe. Any is an incredible
treat: Brown Kiwi A. australis, Great Spotted Kiwi A. haastii,
and Little Spotted Kiwi A. ownii. All are vulnerable to predator
by dogs and other introduced predators; the latter is particularly endangered
and has been introduced on some predator-free offshore islets in hopes
of saving it from extinction.
Kokako Callaeas cinerea one of three endemic Wattlebirds
in New Zealand, one (Huia Heteralocha acutirostris) is extinct and
the other (Saddleback Creadion carunculatus) exists only where reintroduced
on predator-free offshore islets. The Kokako still exists in native forests
on North Island but is very rare and hard to find. Rita & I hiked many
miles in search of it, without success, and will have to return. It has
an incredible vocal repertoire.
Helmeted Vanga Euryceros prevostii by far the most difficult
of the vangas to locate, this strange bird is restricted to dense rainforests
of northeastern Madagascar. Until recently it could be located only by
undertaking a major expedition, but new locales have recently been discovered
that have permitted tours to reach the spot (but still not without significant
effort -- sadly, it was returning from this difficult site that the van
accident occurred which took the life of Phoebe Snetsinger, the world's
top-ranked lister and a wonderful person). The Helmeted Vanga (sometimes
just called "Helmetbird") remains one of Madagascar's great exotics.
Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus endemic to Mauritius,
this species went through an evolutional bottle-neck and survived. When
I first read much about it in the late 1960s/early 1970s, it was considered
just about the rarest bird in the world. It had been reduced to just 6
birds by 1974 (and just two known breeding pairs) -- seemingly without
enough genetic diversity to endure for long -- but an aggressive captive-breeding
program has brought it back from the grave. By the time I saw several birds
in the wild in 1992, there were 250 kestrels already back in the wild (many
hatched from wild nests) and still expanding, with more in the captive-breeding
program. Habitat loss is what endangered it, and there still is little
native habitat on this cut-over island (once home to the Dodo). But this
one just might make it. What a treat it was to see an actual success story!
FAVORITE PHOTOS: This link goes to a page with
favorite Oceanic Island bird photos that I have taken so far.
Ou Psittirostra psittacea once widespread on most of
the major Hawaiian islands, it is now almost gone. Birders I know who live
there know of no reports in the last few years. This yellow-headed, green-bodied,
parrotbilled species could stand for any of the endangered Hawaiian honeycreepers
which have been lost one-by-one over the span of my lifetime. Kauai Akialoa
procerus, with its unbelievably long decurved bill, was last seen in
1964; the Nukupu'u H. lucidus, virtually unheard-of in the last
decade; the Maui Parrotbill Psudonestor xanthophrys and even rarer
Po'ouli Melamprosops phaeosoma, just discovered in 1973 and perhaps
now down to the last handful. It is a depressing topic. The most obvious
culprit is avian malaria, carried by mosquitos and unknown to native species
(which have no natural resistance built up by co-evolution over time).
The disease has a reservoir in all the introduced species which plague
the Hawaiian lowlands, and the mosquito has been found higher and higher
upslope in recent years. It has reached the elevational level at which
the Ou lived, but is still lower than the Palila Loxiodies bailleui
the top of Haleakala on Maui.
Barré, N., and A. Barau. 1982. Oiseaux de la Réunion.
Imprimerie Arts Graphiques Modernes, St. Denis, Réunion.
BACK TO HOME
Castro, J., and A. Phillips. 1997. A Guide to the Birds of the Galapagos
Islands. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N. J.
Collar, N. J., M. J. Crosby, and A. J. Stattersfield. 1994. Birds to
Watch 2: The World List of Threatened Birds. BirdLife International, Norwich,
Hadden, D. 1981. Birds of the North Solomons. Wau Ecology Institute
No. 8, Wau, Papua New Guinea.
Hannecart, F., and Y. Letocart. 1980, 1983. Oiseaux de Nouvelle Caledonie
et des Loyautes. 2 vols. Les Editions Cardinalis, Noumea, New Caledonia.
Harris, M. 1974. A Field Guide to the Birds of Galapagos. Collins, London.
Heather, B., and H. Robertson. 1996. The Field Guide to the Birds of
New Zealand. Viking, Aukland, N. Z.
Keith, G. S. 1974. Birding planet Earth -- a world overview. Birding
Langrand, O. 1990. Guide to the Birds of Madagascar. Yale Univ. Press,
Lepson, J. K., and L. A. Freed. 1997. 'Akepa (Loxops coccineus)
The Birds of North America, No. 294 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy
of Natural Sci., Philadelphia and A.O.U., Washington, D. C.
Marchant, S., and P. J. Higgins. 1991. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand,
and Antarctic Birds. Vol. 1 (in two Parts). Oxford Univ. Press.
Michel, C. 1992. Birds of Mauritius. 3d ed. Editions de L'Ocean Indien,
Morris, P., and F. Hawkins. 1998. Birds of Madagascar: a Photographic
Guide. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven.
Penny, M. 1974. The Birds of Seychelles and the Outlying Islands. Collins,
Poole, A. F., P. Stettenheim, and F. B. Gill, eds. 1990-ongoing. Birds
of North America: Life Histories for the 21st century. Published individually
in fascicles, Acad. of Sciences, Philadelphia, Amer. Ornithol. Union, Washington,
D.C., and Cornell Lab. of Ornith., Ithaca, New York.
Pratt, H. D., P. L. Bruner, and D. G. Berrett. 1987. A Field Guide to
the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton,
Scott, J. M., S. Mountainspring, F. L. Ramsey, and C. B. Keplar. 1986.
Forest Bird Communities of the Hawaiian Islands: Their Dynamics, Ecology,
and Conservation. Studies in Avian Biol. 9, Cooper Ornith. Soc.
Shallenberger, R. J. 1986. Hawaii's Birds. 3d ed., 2d revision. Hawaii
Audubon Soc., Honolulu.
Watson, G. E. 1975. Birds of the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic. Amer.
Geophysical Union, Washington, D. C.
Weiner, J. 1994. The Beak of the Finch. Knopf, New York.
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page created Feb 1999, updated 23 Apr 2000