Little bird is a big problem
LIHUE — The spotlight is again falling on a bunch of noisy birds that have flocked to Kauai’s South Shore, as Hawaii recently celebrated Invasive Species Awareness Week.
They’re known as the ring-necked or rose-ringed parakeets and nightly they congregate in trees in parking lots, strip farmers’ crops straight from the plants, and leave massive messes in their wake.
And over the years, the population has grown to about 5,000 birds.
“Increasingly we’ve been hearing more and more concerns from our farmers, our gardeners, from people who live in these neighborhoods that unfortunately play host to these rose-ring parakeets,” said Kauai County Councilman Derek Kawakami. “What turned out to be a novelty and something we’d kind of entertain ourselves with while we watched them roost in the evenings, turned into a nuisance.”
Kawakami is one of numerous government representatives fielding calls about what’s being hailed as the most visible invasive species on Kauai by the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.
According to Bill Lucey of Kauai Invasive Species Committee, the problem began in Lawai in 1968, when bed-and-breakfast workers brought in rose-ringed parakeets.
“(They) clipped their primaries and had them sort of hanging out free by the front porch and around the B&B. They got away from there and started establishing themselves at some point after 1968,” Lucey said.
At the Prince Kuhio Condos near Spouting Horn, manager Matt Drake and homeowner’s association president Jack Barnard said parakeet flocks leave horrible and unhealthy messes when they roost.
Drake said they started using tools of modern warfare, like drones and lasers, to try and scare dozens of birds out of royal palms and other trees each night.
“Originally when they first showed up it was about four hours a day of just poop cleanup on our property,” he said. “Since we’ve started shooting lasers at the treetops we’ve whittled it down to two hours a day, and flying a drone as a deterrent, we’re actually down quite a bit with that as well.”
The complex had to cut down three trees around the swimming pool to keep the deck and the water from being covered in bird droppings.
“It’s really astounding the damage they can cause. Rose-ringed parakeets are a small bird, you wouldn’t think they could do too much,” said Junior Extension Agent Kathryn Fiedler with the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), one of the experts tracking the parakeets. “The problem is they are birds and they bring in other diseases as well, so even if you see just a little bit of feeding, it pretty much ruins the crop around it too. So they physically remove the fruit and also contaminate fruits and vegetables as well.”
Kauai farmer Jerry Orneallas said he’s using netting to try to protect his crops, which can get contaminated if bird droppings land on the fruit.
“We definitely have the issue of food safety. These birds will land in the tops of the trees, they’ll poop and if any of their droppings gets onto the other fruit … even if it hasn’t been damaged by the birds, you have to discard that fruit,” he said.
Lychee are another favorite of the parakeets, and Lihue farmer Gary Ueunten said the birds devastated an entire season’s worth of fruit at his farm one year.
“The next season I used wax bags from Japan until they figured out they could eat right through the bag so that didn’t work. Then I went to netting, the black netting, but that’s really cumbersome and hard to put on trees. And it also will catch other birds and that’s not desirable,” he said.
The birds are affecting agriculture, too, especially the seed corn industry.
Companies like Syngenta have been forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars to protect fields of corn from the birds.
“Oh, it’s devastating. For example the field I’m standing in is about a 2 ½ acre field,” Robin Young, Syngenta’s site manager on Kauai. “I started noticing the parrots coming into the area about two weeks ago, at first maybe four or five of them. I watched them every evening. I wasn’t too concerned until about five days ago they came in by the flocks. There were probably about 500 out in this field, I’d guesstimate.”
For now, temporary fixes are the only countermeasures in place against the birds, but several agencies are searching for permanent solutions, hoping for broad governmental support to reduce the population on Kauai, and have control measures in place before the rose-ringed parakeets expand their territory.
“I can only speak for myself and some of my colleagues that we have recognized this is a problem and we’re looking toward a collaborative effort between county, state and federal governments,” Kawakami said.
“It is going to be an ongoing issue. We don’t want to see this thing turn into another coqui frog, where we could have addressed it early, before it turns into some kind of catastrophic event.”