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Volcanowatch

November 16, 2000

A weekly feature provided by scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.


When Kalij go to College, Martial Arts is their Major

The Kalij Pheasant is an unparalleled success among game birds introduced in the 50th State. Because Hawai`i has no native upland game birds, people have imported a total of twelve species of pheasants, quail, partridges, peafowl, and wild turkeys from all over the world. Last to arrive was the Kalij, released in 1962 at Pu`u Wa`awa`a Ranch. From there the birds spread and multiplied rapidly, so that by about 1985 they occupied all forests on the Big Island above an elevation of approximately 2,000 ft.

The name kalij originates in India, where the birds range from the western Himalayas to Myanmar (Burma). Progressing from west to east, the males' appearance undergoes the most amazing transformation. In northern India the birds are glossy black above and pearly gray below. In eastern Nepal they are mostly black, but in Myanmar the birds are gray above and black below. The Hawaiian kalij came from U.S. mainland game farms and appear to be a mix of Indian and Nepalese birds. True to neither race, their plumage varies in the amount of black and gray, and each bird looks different. In contrast to the males, the less showy kalij females wear mottled brown plumage.

Books on pheasants relate that it is uncertain whether male kalij are monogamous or polygynous, a term meaning that individual males maintain harems during the short mating season in spring. The better-known Ring-neck Pheasant, quarry of hunters on Big Island pastures, are polygynous, and after mating, males abandon the hens, who alone care for their chicks. By contrast, kalij males in Hawai`i are monogamous and behave like model fathers. Dad stays with Mom year round and helps raise the chicks by brooding, feeding, and protecting them.

The parents show up around Memorial Day with 6-10 brown chicks that look like downy golf balls running on toothpick legs. Many chicks perish, but the survivors grow rapidly during the summer months and by October resemble their parents. The daughters seek independence first, slipping away from the family circle in the fall. The nearly all-male clan remains together until the next spring when the sons drift off on their own.

Surprisingly, brothers sometimes do not leave and instead stay with their parents through the following breeding season. They also help rear the new brood of chicks. This prompts the question: why do some males opt to remain in an extended family rather than setting up house on their own?

One clue is that broods are predominantly male. Kalij families were tallied this summer along the roads and trails around the Volcano and National Park areas. Of 42 teenage chicks, there were 62% more males than females. For all 77 adults seen, there were 85% more males than females! There were no polygynous males or "harems." In fact the females seemed to have it pretty good, with 1-3 adult males attending each female and her chicks.

Two more observations fill in the story. Families were seen again and again in the same places, giving the impression that each had its own home turf. And they defended that turf vigorously. Kalij males spar in much the same way as do roosters. Even females will fight, taking on the member of their own sex when pairs run into each other. Chicks learn the martial arts at an early age by play-fighting in comical contests, girls joining the boys.

It becomes clearer why some older brothers stay with the family. By fighting as a team, two or all three males can win conflicts with their neighbors. Additionally, some males may not leave the family owing to a shortage of available females, and by staying with their parents, sons can help pass on the family genes by helping raise their younger brothers and sisters. Why there are more males than females remains a mystery.

Kalij Pheasants can be readily seen within Kipuka Puaulu (Bird Park) at Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, where they are protected. They can be hunted elsewhere on the Big Island.

Eruption Update

Like the rainy weather, eruptive activity of Kilauea Volcano continued unabated during the past week. Lava is erupting from Pu`u `O`o and flowing southeast through a tube system down to the flats below Pulama pali and beyond to the ocean. Several skylights in the tube system are visible from the end of the Chain of Craters road in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, but no surface flows are seen. Lava is entering the ocean at Kamokuna located 1.6 km (1 mi) west-southwest of Waha`ula.

The public is reminded that the ocean-entry areas are extremely hazardous, with explosions accompanying sudden collapses of the new land. An example of this happened at 2:15 p.m. on Thursday, November 16. A helicopter pilot watched 30% of the bench break away and rapidly slide into the ocean. This action took only seconds, and fortunately, no one was on the bench, or they would have perished. A huge steam plume rising several thousand feet in the air replaced the 2 acres of land lost beneath the waves.

There were no earthquakes reported felt during the week ending on November 16.


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Updated: December 4, 2000