Birds are falling silent on the mountain

I am writing to voice my concern over the dramatic decline in native forest birds on Kauai.

Fifty years ago when I first began to go into the forest to see and to photograph them, these birds were everywhere. Their voices filled the forest. Many older residents and generations before me have experienced this wonderful abundance.

Now, all that is heard is the occasional call of an alien bird, the sound of the wind in the trees, and that of water dripping off the leaves. This is not just happening on the fringes of the mountain but in the remote interior as well. Personally, having seen these beautiful birds throughout the expanse of the Alakai, I am deeply saddened at this loss.

We face not just the extinction of our precious native species but a loss of a part our culture as well. In the not so distant past the colorful feathers of these forest birds were highly valued. Leis, helmets, and capes were made from them to adorn the ali‘i. The Hawaiian songs we love to listen to today are full of references to them.

The effect on our island economy is significant. Hawaiian honeycreepers are famous the world over for their adaptations. Nearly every week I get inquiries from potential visitors asking where they can go on Kauai to see our native birds. Lately, I have to tell them “don’t come.” If birds are the reason for your trip, go to the Big Island or Maui – the high islands where they can still be seen.

In 1962 Rachel Carson wrote a book entitled, “Silent Spring.” The book brought public attention to the detrimental effect the unregulated use of DDT and other pesticides was having on birds. In the book, she predicted that its continued use would one day bring about a spring when there would be no birds to sing.

The issue here is not the use of chemicals but the rapid spread of mosquito-borne diseases — avian malaria and viral pox. I fear that if we do not rid this island of the Culex mosquito we will be left with a silent mountain. The technology to do this exists. It is currently being used in parts of the world to reduce the density of Aedes aegypticus, the mosquito vector that transmits the Zika virus. The FDA has given its seal of approval to this method. The sooner we make use of it, the better.

The argument that ridding our island of mosquitoes may upset a delicate ecological balance does not apply. On the contrary, mosquitoes didn’t arrive here until ships from foreign lands brought the larvae in their water barrels.

Of the 13 species of birds that were here when the Europeans arrived, five are already gone. The more we delay, the more birds we are going to lose and the native plants that depend on them for pollination. I urge concerned readers to encourage your government representatives to introduce legislation to allow the use of this technology.

A recent visitor into our forest remarked to me that it should be an easy decision “after all everybody loves birds and hates mosquitoes.”

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Jim Denny is a resident of Kekaha and author “The Birds of Kauai.”

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