It’s a Love Hate Relationship when it comes to lovebirds

The wild lovebird population in South and East Maui has “gotten out of control” in the last couple of years, according to wildlife officials and conservationists.

“They (lovebirds) are loud and cheery to some, shrill and awful to others,” state wildlife biologist and bird specialist Fern Duvall said. “There are people who love to see them and feed them, but others are losing mangos, papayas and fruits of all kinds to these birds.”

Additionally, Duvall said, the little parrots chew into homes and bore holes under and along the eaves, which may destroy the integrity of a house.

The largest known lovebird population is in the Wailea-Makena area, where a recent study by the Maui Invasive Species Committee counted “well over 100 free-flying lovebirds.” Many perch in the Maui Meadows area.

“When I do see them (lovebirds), it’s a pleasant thing to see, they give the place a tropical jungle feel,” said Drew Huey, who has lived in Maui Meadows for the past 10 years. He said that he started noticing significantly more wild lovebirds within the past year, with flocks of at least 15 birds usually perched in trees during morning hours.

“They don’t bother me, but I could see that if they were eating all my fruits, I’m probably not going to love the lovebirds as much,” Huey said.

The rate at which the wild lovebird population has grown is “definitely alarming” to some local habitat conservationists.

“A lot of times what happens with an invasive species (like the lovebird) is that they start out as a nuisance, and then all of a sudden you get this population explosion, and it hits a threshold where suddenly people are really aware of the problem and you end up with a situation where it may be beyond control,” said Maui Invasive Species Committee Manager Teya Penniman.

She added that while the South Maui colony may be a nuisance for residents living in the area, it is a colony in the tropical forests of East Maui – around Nahiku – that is most alarming.

“Parrot species in the wild can damage fruits of native plants, which are already under tremendous pressure as it is,” Penniman said.

Because Nahiku is in a more remote and unpopulated area, conservationists have not been able to secure an estimate of how many wild lovebirds are nesting in East Maui.

The little birds were originally brought to Hawaii from Africa as domestic pets, but eventually may have escaped their cages or owners may have set them free intentionally, not realizing detrimental effects to the environment, Duvall said. Because Maui’s tropical climate and abundance of fruit are reminiscent of their homeland, it is easy for lovebirds to survive and breed in the wild.

“I remember seeing a special on TV about the Mitred conures in East Maui, so I know they (non-native birds in the wild) can become a pest,” said John Guard, who owns The Pet Shop in Kahului.

A few years ago, a large colony of Mitred conures (a large parrot species native to South America) in Haiku threatened to displace native seabirds and spread invasive plant seeds. Efforts to remove the invasive parrots have been ongoing, Penniman said.

The Maui Pet Shop sells, on average, six to eight lovebirds every month and carries a handful of varieties, including petrie, black-masked and blue-masked lovebirds. Each bird is priced between $50 and $100.

“They’re a highly intelligent bird, very noisy and destructive, but they can also be very charming and generally cute,” Guard said.

Because community feelings toward the birds are so conflicted, it is hard to set any plan of action at this point, wildlife officials said.

“We have no plans to take any kind of control action,” Penniman said. “Our plate is quite full and we don’t have the staff or the resources to take on something like this (especially when) there are divergent opinions about them (wild lovebirds).”

If the population did continue to grow to a point where the birds posed an immediate threat to their surrounding environment, there are options other than capturing and destroying the birds.

The ideal and most humane solution, Penniman said, would be to facilitate an aviary for the lovebirds, but the committee currently lacks the means to start one.

Individuals who wish to report a wild lovebird problem may request a wildlife control permit by calling the Maui Invasive Species Committee at 573-6472.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at echao@mauinews.com.