The cheeky little buggahs know where the food is. For a big part of the morning that place is a piece of asphalt. They're immigrants who arrived so long ago and are so savvy they qualify as na kama'aina.
It's early morning. Construction and ranch guys pull big pickup trucks into the parking lot next to Morihara Store in Waiakoa. The older ones are friendly, if maka hiamoe (sleepy-eyed). They need the store's strong coffee to get their eyes fully open. The younger guys and a clutch of women with cars full of kids are self-absorbed.
Some 45 minutes after sunrise - Maui looks glorious. Way off in the distance, a line of toothpicks marks the Kaheawa Wind Farm. Black-bottom clouds will slide across Kula later in the day. No one will mind. Recent rains have greened parched pastures, relieving ranchers from buying food for their livestock. A little more rain won't hurt. The island is heading into the dry season.
On this morning, a mahina hapalua hope (a waning moon) hangs in a blue sky. She's on her way to her monthly disappearance later this week and a rebirth, mahina hou, some days later.
A need for caffeine and nicotine prompted the short trek from home. There's an added pleasure in sharing a few words with Agnes and Toni. The women are busy keeping the coffee pots full and tracking incoming supplies carried in from trucks that seem too large for Lower Kula Road.
The coffee is hot and black. The cigarette is, well, a cigarette. A shaky stomach accepts a few bites of a scone, an alfresco breakfast on the edge of the loading dock for grocery's feed store annex. Eat about a third of the triangular treat. Share the rest with the little buggahs.
There's a fairly big flight of house sparrows hanging around the store and the Kula Bistro across the road. The eaves of the restaurant seem to be a prime nesting area. The birds originated in Eurasia and have spread around the world. They are sometimes referred to as feathered mice. According to H. Douglas Pratt's "A Pocket Guide to Hawaii's Birds." The island sobriquet is "hamburger sparrow" because they often look for handouts - or throw downs - at fast-food restaurants. Their formal, scientific name is Passer domesticus.
They came to Hawaii via Eurasia and New Zealand, according to the Hawaii Audubon Society. They were released on Oahu in 1871. The society's "Hawaii's Birds" says sparrows "can become a nuisance. It feeds on anything edible." Don't know about them being a nuisance, although they have been known to fly through one door into Morihara Store and flutter around before exiting another door. I do know they have a taste for pastries.
A first there aren't any birds in the parking lot, although their staccato cries can be heard. Since they are always saying "cheap, cheap," maybe they should be called budget birds. They certainly get along with very little.
A scatter of scone crumbs draws in a male sparrow, easy to spot from its black bib. He finds a morsel and tells others of his kind. They wing in, turning their heads from side to side, hop to, grab a crumb and take off. Another and another and another takes their place.
Big crumbs are snagged and carried off for swallowing elsewhere. Females, noted for their dun coloring and lack of markings, sometimes fly to the restaurant eaves with bigger chunks of the pastry. To feed their young?
The Waiakoa sparrows are akamai, if skittish. They seem to know which humans might leave a mess for the birds to clean up. I sit still and some of the braver birds come within a few feet. One slight movement and the bird takes off, prompting an immediate scattering of the avian mob.
They fly off to sit on metal fence posts and branches of a wild variety of stuff choking an undeveloped lot. They constantly move their heads from side to side on the lookout for crumbs and incoming mynahs.
The mynas are twice the size of the sparrows which are quick to give way when the bully birds land, usually in pairs. This morning, though, one exceptionally brave - or hungry - male sparrow ignores the mynas while they swagger up to a piece of the scone. They nod in time with their one-foot-forward walk. Mynas, or Acridotheres tristis, were imported from India in 1865 "to control insect pests."
There's nothing like watching transplants to entertain a transplant with the time to enjoy all sorts of Maui life.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.