Three-quarters of Hawaii's native flowering plants probably come from seeds that hitched rides with birds. The bird-borne seeds that sprouted in Hawaii evolved into more than a thousand new species. The most likely seed-carriers were undoubtedly strong fliers, such as plovers or tropicbirds - like this Red-tailed Tropicbird - which travel thousands of miles across the Pacific. (Enlarge the photo, to see the bird's red tail.)
Birds Carry Plants to Hawaii
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote!
[A volcano erupting]
Massive volcanic eruptions brought forth the Hawaiian Islands from deep beneath the sea. [A volcano erupting]
The islands stand astride the Pacific, more distant from the continents than any other island group on earth. [Waves]
How did these remote islands of lava rock grow lushly green with plant life?
Birds played a vital role. Birds like the Pacific Golden-Plover we’re hearing now. [Pacific Golden-Plover calls]
Three-quarters of Hawaii’s native flowering plants probably come from seeds that hitched rides with birds. [Pacific Golden-Plover calls] Plant seeds travel with birds in several ways. Sticky or barbed seeds adhere to the feathers – much like the seeds stuck in your socks after a walk in a weedy field. Other seeds travel in mud caked on a bird’s feet. And still others cross the ocean in the stomachs of birds. [Pacific Golden-Plover calls]
The bird-borne seeds that sprouted in Hawaii evolved into more than a thousand new species. The most likely seed-carriers were strong fliers like plovers or tropicbirds, which travel thousands of miles across the Pacific. [Red-tailed Tropicbird sounds]
When the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaii over a thousand years ago, the far-flung islands were already fully clothed in green. Mostly thanks to the birds, those winged gardeners from across the sea.
[Phrase of slack key music]
Bird audio provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Pacific Golden-Plover recorded by W. Ward. Red-tailed Tropicbirds recorded by C. Robbins.
Assorted ambient recordings by Kessler Productions.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2007 Tune In to Nature.org Revised for Nov. 2009
“Makala Pua” by The Polynesians, from Beautiful Blue Hawaii, Flair Records: 2006.
Primary source: Culliney, John L. Islands in a Far Sea: Nature and Man in Hawaii. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988.