Owls and Hawai'i: The Gallistrix genus, the Pueo and the Barn Owl
Aloha Pueo lovers!
Today I would like to share some information about Hawaii and its owls.
Owls are important to every culture, and specially to the Hawaiian one (among other reasons, Pueo is a powerful aumakua).
A fact that not many people know is that the Pueo is not the original owl species of the Hawaiian archipelago. Pueo arrived to Hawaii around 1500 years ago (there are no fossil records before that date),
The original owls of the Hawaiian archipelago are the Gallistrix genus (or Stilt-owls). which probably looked a bit like this.
When the islands were settled by humans (sometime around the late 1st millennium AD), the owls presumably rapidly succumbed to the depredations of introduced pigs, Polynesian rats, as well as habitat destruction for agriculture.
They were never seen alive by scientists and sadly they are nowadays extinct. Their remains can be found at the Bishop Museum.
The Pueo, or Hawaiian-short eared Owl arrived to Hawaii shortly after the first Hawaiians made it here, and for a long while (short if we look through geological or evolutionary eyes) he was the only owl species found on the islands, until the Barn Owl was introduced some decades ago.
Nowadays both species inhabit the Hawaiian isles, and although they are very different (visit https://www.pueoproject.com/identifying-tips-pueo-vs-barn-owl), they are often confused.
Here some pictures of the differences among the Pueo and the Barn owl morphological features. Left side Pueo, right side Barn owl.
Photo credits (except Gallistrix drawing): Javier Cotin.
Special thanks to Molly Hageman (Bishop Museum Collections Manager) for showing us the collection and the great specimens that are kept there.