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Birds of Hawaii, Part I

By Staff | Oct 11, 2018

Just about every island in the Hawaiian chain is home to a variety of sea bird species. Some islands shelter more than others, depending on the habitats available on each particular island. Mahi mahi seem to attract several species of birds.

If you start your day off trolling, the birds will be your guide. During ahi season, matoris (shearwaters) and ‘Iwa (great frigate birds) will generally be good ahi indicators, and large piles will often lead you to your pot of gold. Getting the fish to bite is another story, but birds can help you find the ahi. Often, these bird piles will have a mixture of “whites” (boobies), sooty terns and other species as well.

If the birds have a good idea where the fish are, they will probably be flying low to the water in a specific direction.

The frigate bird, or ‘Iwa, due to its size and flying mode, is an easy bird to identify. The ‘Iwa qualifies as the meanest and ugliest bird among all sea birds. This large bird is frightening in appearance, and it terrorizes other marine birds and robs their food for them.

Although preying on other marine birds is the ‘Iwa’s primary feeding technique, it may on occasion hunt and catch its own meal. It is not uncommon for the ‘Iwa to follow a concentration of large predators. For example, mahi mahi often school, and one of their favorite prey is flying fish, or malolo. When the malolo take to the air to escape the mahi mahi, the ‘Iwa will swoop down and snatch the prey in midair. When the ‘Iwa are soaring high in the sky and appear to be looking down into the water, they are probably tracking a school of large predators.

Unusual abundance of ‘Iwa foretold an abundance of large-sized bait fish and abundance of large-sized predators in the pelagic ocean. The ‘Iwa is one of the best indicators for projecting what kind of tuna season to expect.

‘Iwa often wait for mahi mahi to chase bait out of the water before making their moves. They hover high above a school and wait for their opportunity. Because ‘Iwa are not able to land on the water like other ocean-going birds, this is one of the ways they can get a meal.

‘Iwa follow both open schools and schools associated with floating debris. When you see them floating on the air currents high above the water, they’re probably still looking for lunch. However, if they begin diving and making exaggerated movements, they obviously have something in their sights.

‘Iwa have the ability to see fish deep beneath the surface and can time their swoops so they’ll have a shot at a fish trying to get away from a predator like a hungry mahi mahi. They are great mahi mahi indicators, especially if there are other birds working with them.

You can often tell when an ‘Iwa is getting ready to swoop by its tail movement. The bird’s tail will often spread out in a wide “V” and narrow again just before a dive. Little things like that should signal you to make your move.