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As with flowers, the variety of birds in Hawaii must be experienced first hand. Seeing a bloom does not convey its aroma, and a picture of this little, tiny bird does not show you how it hides amid blades of grass to ambush me as I cross the lawn. At first, it looks like the grass is moving. These tiny birds are just about the size of my thumb. In the grass, they are barely perceptible until an approach sends them flurrying ahead. Even then, they do not exactly take flight – they move slightly ahead like grasshoppers. They make little, high-pitched chirps as go, chiding me for interrupting their activities.
These tiniest of birds are very difficult to photograph – both because they are so small and move so quickly. I have a lot of bad photos that basically look like a blurry lawn and a caption that says something like “look really closely for their red heads.” Actually, their entire heads aren’t red – they have a red mask. Imagine a really tiny bird with a red Zorro mask.
Fortunately, a professor at the University of Hawaii , K. W. Bridges, has both more patience than I and a much better camera. He says these birds are called a “Common Waxbill” but they weren’t identified until the late 1970s. If they’re so common, why did it take so long to identify? My guess is it took that long for researchers to catch one.
And now another confession. I have never liked birds. The ones in cages look sad and the really large ones creep me out. But that has all changed since I moved to Hawaii. Here the birds are all free to move about, flying or hopping through the lawn, singing their own special songs. I have discovered that I really love birds, as experienced in nature. I just didn’t like them as captives or pets. I look forward to watching the flock of tiny birds hopping ahead of my footsteps on the way to the bus or grocery store, chirping at the interruption in their grass-eating gathering.