Garden Improvements – The Founders’ Birdhouse

The Founders' Birdhouse
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve has been enjoyed by local people and visitors alike for over thirty years. To date, over three million visitors have roamed the winding garden paths of our beautiful Onomea Valley and the reputation of the Garden has reached far and wide. The Garden’s education program has exposed thousands of Hawaii students to the science of botany and the importance of protecting the world’s rainforests.

However, the Garden’s work is never finished. Founder Pauline Lutkenhouse and the Garden’s dedicated staff continue to search for ways to improve the Garden experience for our guests.

One recent improvement was to create a spacious new home for the Garden’s Macaws. When first brought into Onomea valley, the young chicks were not in an enclosure, but they would stay near their perches, where they were fed and cared for. As they grew older, they began to disappear into the jungle for long periods and it was decided that for their safety, the birds would need to be placed in enclosures. Three separate enclosures were created, while at the same time, plans were hatched to create an aviary large enough to accommodate all of the macaws. Generous donations from our visitors poured in as building plans were assembled and the difficult conservation land permit process begun.

As soon as our plans were approved and enough money had been raised, the macaws were temporarily moved off-site so work could begin. The old enclosures were removed and Garden staff cleared and leveled the area for the concrete foundation. Corners Limited custom built the enclosure according to our design and came from Kalamazoo, Michigan to install it.

With the building up, it was time to create the ideal home for our macaws. The ground inside was filled with familiar tropical plants. Perches were cut from guava wood, avoiding synthetic perches which can damage claws. Because Macaws love to bathe and water is good for their feathers, we asked local water feature expert and retired engineer Alex Burgess to design and build the ultimate “Bird Bath.” Alex created an amazing water-scape with three small waterfalls and shallow pond where the macaws can often be seen frolicking about. Best of all, the water is all recycled and the water pumps are solar powered making it environmentally friendly.

Macaws are very social animals with high intelligence, curiosity, and personality and thus do require daily stimulation. With the addition of bird “toys”, plenty of room to fly, and lots of interaction with visitors and staff, their new home provides all of the stimulation they need. Since any group of birds will establish a pecking order, they are carefully monitored to make sure that there is no excessive “bullying” that might endanger their well being.

All of our macaws were purchased from a reputable local breeder. This is especially important in the case of the endangered Scarlet Macaw because deforestation is destroying their natural habitat at the same time Scarlet chicks are being aggressively poached because of their high value on the black market. In addition, Scarlets are slow breeders producing only one or two chicks every other year.

We have a beautiful Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) named ‘Ono’ for Onomea Valley. She is the star of the aviary as she is the most talkative and feisty of all the macaws. Anyone who has entered the aviary can tell you that Ono needs a firm hand.

On the other hand, our three Green-winged Macaws (Ara chloroptera) are gentle giants. They are named Ala, Kahi, and Kaha; Ala and Kahi, for the Alakahi stream running through the valley; and Kaha, for the Kahalihi stream which also runs through Onomea Valley.

We also have two Blue-and-Gold Macaws (Ara ararauna) named Hama and Kua for the Hamakua Coast. These Macaws are the most popular pet macaws and breed well in captivity.

If you haven’t already, we do hope that you will come and enjoy what we call “The Founders’ Birdhouse” in honor of Garden Founders Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse. It is a sheer delight to watch these magnificent creatures frolic, fly, and screech with joy.

Aviary Foundation

After the area was leveled flat, a frame was laid out for a concrete foundation that would secure the aviary’s walls and posts.

aviary structure

Corners Limited custom built the enclosure according to our design and came from Kalamazoo, Michigan to install it.

Alex Burgess

Alex Burgess designed and built the ultimate “Bird Bath” .


Macaws enjoying their new guava wood perches.


Wood benches surround the Birdhouse for easy viewing.

Scarlet Macaw

Ono, our Scarlet Macaw.

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