On Maui, several sightings since November of an invasive bird that could pose a new agricultural threat have conservationists on high alert.

bird perched on branch
Red-vented bulbuls could pose a new threat to Maui farmers, as well as the native forest ecosystem and watersheds. Courtesy: Maui Invasive Species Committee/2021

The first red-vented bulbul was spotted by a forest bird conservationist at Haleakala National Park on Nov. 28, according to a press release from the Maui Invasive Species Committee. Since then, several other sightings have been made near Costco, Whole Foods and Queen Kaahumanu Center in Kahului.

It’s unknown if these are all sightings of the same bird or if there are multiple birds in the area.

There have also been two unconfirmed reports of the red-vented bulbul on Dec. 2 near Honolua and Kapalua Golf Course in West Maui.

Native to Pakistan and India, the bird ranks on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s global top 100 invasive species list.

Long-established on Oahu, the species is a bane to farmers and backyard growers, decimating papaya, lychee, mango and banana crops, as well as orchid buds. Red-vented bulbuls reportedly cause about $300,000 worth of damage annually to Oahu’s orchid industry, according to the press release.

The bird is also skilled at dispersing seeds of weeds, such as ivy gourd and miconia, contributing to the degradation of native forest ecosystems and watersheds.

The species has been spotted on Maui before, but those birds were removed to prevent a breeding population from establishing itself on the island.

The bird has dark brown or black coloring, a pointed crest on its head, a white abdomen and rump and crimson feathers under the tail. They also have a distinct, loud call, which can be heard here.

Maui residents and visitors can report red-vented bulbul sightings to 643pest.org or by calling 808-643-PEST (7378). Clear descriptions of the bird, time and place observed, as well as photos or videos, can be helpful when submitting reports.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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