About Bird Watching in Fiji
Fiji, compared to other South Pacific nations such as New Guinea, lacks a diversity of avian life but there are enough interesting and sometimes spectacular looking birds to attract bird watching visitors from throughout the world. In all, there are about 80 species of terrestrial and freshwater birds of which about 10 have been introduced. They are distributed throughout the islands but those interested in sampling an array bird should consider visiting three islands: Viti Levu (which has 56 of the 81 known species found in the group), Kadavu, and the Garden Island of Taveuni. In general, the larger islands tend to be more ecologically intact and the bigger birds—notably the parrots and pigeons—are easily seen.
Although space does not permit a detailed look at Fiji’s bird life I will attempt to survey some of the species. The largest bird found in Fiji is the reef heron, Egretta sacra , which feeds on small fish and other marine animals. They range from the coast to the very Interior of the largest islands.
There are three species of hawk in Fiji. The most common is the swamp harrier, Circus approximans , which is most commonly seen over the grasslands, swamps and wooded areas. It feeds on rodents, birds and occasionally snakes. The Fiji Goshawk, Accipiter rufitoques , ranges from the coast to inland areas and preys on lizards, insects and other birds. Peregrine falcons, Falcus peregrinus , can also be found in Fiji but are not commonly observed. In the evenings you just might spot a the unmistakable profile of the barn owl, Tyto alba , one of which I used to observe perched on a telephone wire in my old stomping grounds of Lami, outside of Suva. They prey generally on rodents but will sometimes eat bats or other birds.
There are several varieties of dove in Fiji. The most common is the introduced spotted turtle dove, Streptopelia chinensis , which is also among the most destructive vis a vis fruit crops. Among the most sought after by birders is the orange dove, Ptiliponus victor found in Vanua Levu, Taveuni and some of the other offshore islands. The male of the species is a bright orange with the exception of an olive green head. So rare is this bird that you’ll be hard pressed to find a photo of it in any book.
Peale’s pigeon, Ducula latrans , as Paddy Ryan, the South Pacific’s premier nature photographer points out in his superb Fiji’s Natural Heritage guide, is “more likely to be seen than heard” and sounds a great deal like a barking dog. Thus when walking through a remote rainforest, the bark you’ll hear is more likely avian rather than canine in origin.
Perhaps the most famous, and easily seen of the larger Fijian birds are the yellow and red-breasted musk parrots (Prosopeia personata and Prosopeia tabuensis ) get their name from their distinctive musky odor. It’s not unusual to see small flocks squawking of red-breasted musk parrots flitting about the coconut trees in Taveuni or the other larger islands. Don’t be surprised if a taxi driver offers to procure one of these creatures for you to take home. They are popular as pets with locals and evidently are sold to visitors on the sly. This is highly illegal but unfortunately a common practice.
The white-collared kingfisher, Halcyon chloris , is a striking blue with a white collar around the neck. I’ve often seen them dipping into a friend’s swimming pool in Taveuni. Also seen on Taveuni is the silktail, Lamprolia victoriae . Once thought to be a bird of paradise, it isbirdwatching becoming increasingly rare on other islands most likely because of logging. Paddy Ryan describes it as a deep black with metallic blue spangling on the head and breast.
Much less exotic is the Indian mynah Acridotheres tristes which was introduced in the late 19th century to feed on sugar cane pests. Aggressive, intelligent and noisy, it can be seen throughout Fiji. The jungle mynah, Acridotheres fuscus introduced in the early 20th century to control the army worm, is usually seen in the countryside, often perched on the backs of cattle.
Those thinking of visiting Fiji to observe bird life might consider spending three days each in Viti Levu, Taveuni and Kadavu.
Visitors to Viti Levu might look for:
Yellow-breasted musk parrot, Prosopeia personata Golden dove, Ptilinopus luteovirens Black-faced shrikebill Pink-billed parrot-finch Long legged warbler In Taveuni keep your eye peeled for the: Orange dove, Ptilnopus victor Red shining parrot, Silktail, Lamprolia victoriae and Azure crowned flycatcher.
Kadavu birders look for:
Peale’s pigeon, Ducula latrans Kadavu fantail, R. Personata Red-breasted musk parrot (see above), Prosopeia fuscus Yellow-breasted musk parrot and Prosopeia personata.
If you’re planning to visit Savusavu on Vanua Levu, Daku Resort offers some good bird watching packages. There are a couple of options: you can do an ad hoc 4-day tour accompanied by Daku staff member Keni Tadulala – a good bird spotter but not a bird expert – for F$1210 per person (accommodation and meals not included). (Quote RKAYFIJI2012 and you’ll get a A$50 discount on the price). http://dakuresort.com/bird-watching-tours/
Or they offer a week with bird expert Phil Gregory : the next one is in June 2012. This is a fully organised trip and Phil accompanies it all: see Link.
If you’re interested in following up on bird “literature” I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of Paddy Ryan’s Fiji’s Natural Heritage or Birds of the Fiji Bush by Fergus Clunie. Both are available in Fiji. The fine photos that grace this section and other pages on this site are courtesy of Paddy Ryan. You can read Paddy’s bio too and see more photos on his Website.
Top photo is Accipiter rufitorques, Fijian goshawk near Sigatoka. (Courtesy of Paddy Ryan).