Birds of Hawaii

Apapane, native Hawaiian honeycreeper, Big Island

The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated islands on the planet. Despite being nearly 2,400 miles from the nearest land mass, Hawaii has over 300 species of birds. Here are bird photos, information and resources, and a few of my favorite birding spots in Hawaii.

Hosmer Grove, Haleakala, Maui native forest

Long ago when the archipelago’s volcanoes emerged from ocean waters, they were devoid of plant and animal life. Over the eons, plants and animals have made their way to Hawaii in numerous ways.


For birds, some arrived by chance, some were brought here by humans; and the process of dispersal and colonization has continued to this day. Different species have been more successful than others in becoming established populations, based on many factors.


In today’s world, there are two notable endemic species, unique to Hawaii: the nene and honeycreepers.

Nene, the Big Island

Nenes are one of the successes of Hawaiian avifauna. Branta sandvicensis, Hawaii’s state bird, is the world’s rarest goose. In 1952 there were only 30 individuals left on the planet; now there are 2,500. This is due to heroic conservation efforts. Wikipedia Nene info. 


Some species have never made the long journey to Hawaii, like snakes and hummingbirds. There are no hummingbirds on the Hawaiian Islands. Instead, Hawaii’s nectar feeders are the honeycreepers. With small bodies and bright colors, the honeycreepers flutter enticingly in native forests, eliciting melodious, canary-like songs.


I have spent many weeks birding in Hawaii over the course of 20 years; trudged through waist-high grass, forded fast-moving streams, hiked old lava beds and miles of forest, and spent dozens of rain-drenched days searching for the honeycreepers.


Amakihi, native Hawaiian honeycreeper, Maui. Photo: Athena Alexander


They are an evolutionary marvel. Derived from the same original finch species, honeycreepers evolved into more than 50 unique species or subspecies. Some evolved with bills to fit perfectly into the native Hawaiian flowers, others developed the bill for crushing seeds, others for feeding on small insects.

Honeycreeper Drawings by H. Douglas Pratt, Jr. Key below


This kind of specialization has rendered the birds less adaptable, therefore more susceptible, to disease and other maladies. Although there has been a monumental human effort to protect the honeycreepers, this specialized species is literally losing ground.


Sadly, avian malaria, habitat loss, non-native predators, and many other factors have threatened the honeycreeper populations, like the I’iwi, highlighted here.


Hawaii still has honeycreepers, and I am happy to say I have seen several species in my dogged pursuits.


Jet birding the Big Island, binoculars inside jacket


Birds that have become established on the islands and continue to breed successfully are what we see most in our lowland island activities. They can be found on residential and resort landscapes, all the local towns and beaches, and the exotic flowering plants throughout the islands.


Saffron Finch, Big Island











Java Sparrows, Big Island

A few of the commonly found birds, transplants from other parts of the world, include: Common Myna, Japanese White-eye, Northern Cardinal, Red-crested Cardinal, Java Sparrow, Zebra Dove, Pacific Golden Plover, and Cattle Egret.

Myna pair on palm frond, Big Island


Yellow-billed Cardinal, Big Island


Red-crested Cardinal, Big Island

Spotted Dove, Maui


Another species we do not see in Hawaii are gulls. They lack the salt glands necessary for desalinating seawater. But with shoreline surrounding every island, shorebirds and seabirds are easily found. Frigatebirds, shearwaters, red-footed boobies, and tropicbirds are some of my favorites to find on various islands.

Wedge-tailed shearwater chick, Kilauea Point, Kauai — ‘Ua’u Kani


Common Moorhen, Oahu — ‘Alae’ula

Wandering Tattler, Oahu — ‘Ulili

Hawaiian Stilt, Oahu — Ae’o


Whatever Hawaiian island you have the fortune to be on, there are birds everywhere, and their tropical songs and mystical beauty are enchanting.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

White Rock Pigeon, Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, Oahu

Nene, Kilauea Point, Kauai


Kalij Pheasant, Big Island


Helpful book for every Hawaiian visitor: Hawaii’s Birds by the Hawaii Audubon Society. In the back it lists Popular Birding Sites on every island.

Some of my favorite birding spots, by island:

Big Island favorites:

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park aka Place of Refuge

Recommended Big Island professional guides:

Visit Hakalau Forest with Jack Jeffrey, or book a day trip with Hawaii Forest & Trail.

Other National Parks on the Big Island.


Kauai favorites:

Kilauea Point

Koke’e State Park

Waimea Canyon State Park

Trail info for both above-mentioned parks

Professional bird guide: David Kuhn

Kauai bird expert: Jim Denny


I’iwi. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Maui favorites:

Haleakala National Park, especially Hosmer Grove; some of my sweetest I’iwi moments were here.


Oahu favorites:

Shorelines of the north coast, including James Campbell NWR

Grounds of Pearl Harbor Visitor Center


Additional posts I have written about Hawaii:

Snorkeling and Captain Cook

Nenes of Hawaii

Aloha Big Island


102 thoughts on “Birds of Hawaii

  1. I’ve never been to Hawaii, and this is the first time that I’ve heard about the Honeycreepers. Thanks for teaching me something new today, Jet.

    • The world of honeycreepers and other native flora and fauna in Hawaii is something most people have not learned of, so you’re not alone, Allan. When hanging out with other science geeks in Hawaii, however, if is almost all they talk about. So I am delighted to bring it to you, and am grateful for your warm comment. Many thanks, my new friend–

  2. Fantastic post, Jet. What beautiful bird images and interesting info about honeycreepers. Happy that we have more visits to Hawaii now that we are on the west coast. Happy to have your posts for a resource.

    • One of the many joys of being on North America’s west coast is being so close to Hawaii. From San Francisco it is a mere six-hour flight to paradise. Thank you, Jane, and happy alohas to you for the future.

    • Yes, it is surprising to see such a bird variety so far out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I’m really glad you enjoyed the visit here today, Maggie, and thank you for your visit and comment.

    • You’re right, Craig, it seems gulls are everywhere else in the world; surprising when we find a place like Hawaii where they do not live. And no snakes is kind of nice for some of those deep-forest hikes, don’t have to worry about deadly venomous surprises. Delighted you enjoyed the birds of Hawaii today, and appreciative of your warm comment.

    • Like many of the birds in Hawaii, there are chickens and then there are junglefowl…and they all look alike and it is confusing. That’s because some are truly wild, some are domestic, and some have escaped domesticity and are feral. The junglefowl in general, however, have less individual variation than the domestic chicken. Originally they were brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians for food. All the times you go to Hawaii, Jan, I am honored to vicariously join you for the next visit. I think it’ll be fun for you to know a few of the bird friends; and really fun if you pick up the book for easy reference. It’s a small paperback. Mahalo, my friend–

    • That is a wonderful coincidence, Eilene…and a topic of endless fascination. I look forward to visiting your post, and thanks so much for stopping by to see the Hawaiian honeycreepers and other birds.

  3. Thanks, Jet, for another welcome island injection of colour. I always enjoy your Hawaii posts, and here’s another, full of information about small conservation successes, further challenges and Athena’s beautiful bird photographs. The Stilts are striking, many others are eye-catching, yet I find myself strangely drawn to the Wandering Tattler…
    Thanks again, and have a great weekend!

    • Always a great joy to have you stop by, pc, and your thoughtful reading and comprehension are much appreciated. You know how much I love the Hawaiian islands by now, and oh how lucky I am to share the beauty of the islands here. The world of Hawaii opens up incredibly when you venture up into the mountains. And all the mountains you and Mrs. pc have trekked to, you know what I mean. Only problem is there’s never enough time to do mountains and sea and everything in between! As for the wandering tattler, I know what you mean about being drawn to them. They are especially elegant with the black lava rocks they traverse, and fun to watch for what they all find. My warmest thanks–

  4. Thank you for the beautiful birds of Hawaii series, Jet. The trip I took last month, I saw Myna and Java Sparrows, but not as many as I saw last time in Big Island.
    These are beautiful captures!

  5. Great write up and wonderful photos. We are on the west beach of Oahu and have seen an Hawaiian Petrel Ua’u I think is the same as Band Rumped Storm Petrel and a Laysan Albatross (Moli)and a Black Crown Night Heron– so glad to have my spotting scope ! Lovin it–Aloha

    • I am delighted to hear you saw the Hawaiian petrel, Laysan albatross and black-crowned night heron, Bill. Those first two especially are really special spots. There is nothing like good opticals to bring these beauties closer to you. Many mahalos to you, dear Bill–

  6. Jet I feel sad to say I have been to Hawaii twice and don’t recall seeing any birds that doesn’t mean they weren’t there I just wasn’t observant. Clearly I missed a great deal. Those curved beaks are extraordinary. Not sure I would likely hand to be at the receiving end of one of them but then likely my hand would not be very appealing anyway.

    • Imagine what a thrill it is for me to know that the next time you and Dave have an aloha adventure, you’ll be prepared to see the wonders of the birds of Hawaii. Enjoyed your visit Sue, and fun comment…as always…many thanks and alohas too.

  7. Thanks for sharing the wonderful photos and information and it is always a joy to read about your “dogged pursuits” of birds and love of Hawaii through your words. Beautiful photos by Athena and I loved the shot of the Nene by the water and enjoyed seeing the different cardinals. How wonderful you have been able to revisit this beautiful place so many times and I can imagine each visit had its own special sights, adventures and birds.

    • Wonderful to receive your delightful comment, ACI. I don’t really think about the dogged pursuits until I’m writing about them here. That waist-high grass, for example, was so wet and thick and difficult; I even fell down. There were four of us and we were all struggling and no one even saw me go down. We were all just in a hot pursuit to get to the tree with the tiny orange dot high in the canopy. And we got to it, ahhh. Thanks for always being so interested, my friend, it is much appreciated.

    • The land of sweet fragrance, palm trees rattling, rainbows, warm sea, and colorful birds…yes, it is a delightful place in the world, and so much fun to share. Thanks so much, Donna, it’s a joy to bring these marvelous and other-worldly birds to you.

    • Thank you very much, Deepak. I think the java sparrows are magnificent looking too. They originally come from Indonesia, and were brought to the island, no doubt for their flair and beauty.

    • It was pouring rain in that photo of me with the other birders, and we’d been in pouring rain for many hours by then, and yes, I was very happy. I’m smiling now just thinking about that day. Thanks so much for your kind comment and visit, Jill, much appreciated.

    • I think the nene is beautiful, too, Dina, I’m glad you liked it. They have these deep furrows that are unique, and change in different light. I’ve never seen a goose with furrows, i.e., deep grooves, and for years I just thought it was part of the feather pattern. Always a joy to share creatures with you, my friend–

  8. Thank you for this lovely collection of Hawaiian birds. I suspect that I’d never see them but for your fun post. It seems I’ve decided to concentrate on areas closer to home that don’t require flying or crossing the Mississippi! 😀 Can’t complain though. There’s plenty to see and explore without the effort it takes to travel farther afield.

  9. I can’t remember seeing a single bird when I visited The Big Island – clearly my loss! The Honeycreepers are fascinating with all the variations of beak they’ve managed to develop.

    • Glad you enjoyed the remarkable evolution of the honeycreepers, Joanne. And I’m glad you’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Big Island, and now you have seen some of the birds there, even if only in photos. Thanks very much for your visit today.

  10. Aloha and mahalo, Jet, for this lovely and interesting post. We’ve been enjoying some of the birds you featured here during our winter visit. And, I very much enjoyed your honeycreeper information. Fascinating! Hawaii is a very unique — and beautiful place, indeed.

    • Aloha dear Nan! I am overjoyed that you found the honeycreeper information interesting, Nan. As you are a part-time Hawaiian resident of this unique state, it is good to know some of the deeper history of the birds there. I am happy you are enjoying the birds there, and having a blast in your winter digs. Mahalo for taking time from the beach to join me here.

  11. Such a wide range of bird species!Brilliant all the photos,compelling your illustrations,dear Jet!Loved them all,they have gorgeous motley feathers and live peacefully in this remote island.The deeep red plumage of the apapane honeycreeper and the nene goose are beyonn beautiful.Thank you for this delightful post,you are a great birder.Happy Sunday,Sunday,my friend 🙂

    • Thank you, dearest Doda, for joining me in Hawaii today. In Hawaii the word for thank you is Mahalo. Yes, the shades of red in the Hawaiian honeycreepers are like no other, and I am delighted you noticed it in the apapane. A very special place to see the birds, I am glad I could bring you a touch of Hawaii, Doda. Mahalo for your delightful visit here today.

  12. I still need to learn more about birds’ species – it’s amazing the diversity of this animal. Thanks for sharing the post about the birds in Hawaii, Jet!

    The finch bird is super cute! I have seen them walking on the land once and they looked so adorable 😀

    • It’s really fun to see the saffron finch on the grass, their brightness is so lively. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the birds of Hawaii here, and the fish of Hawaii while there, Indah. Thank you–

  13. A terrific post, Jet. Such unique and beautiful birds. My son’s girlfriend is from HI and he brought me back that very same bird book. I’ve never visited, but there is always hope!

    • My nephew was stationed in Oahu years ago, and he’s taken up residency there with his family. And it’s really fun to have family living there to take you to their favorite hang-outs. I have the feeling you’ll go one day, Eliza, you would love it with the botanicals. Plumeria trees everywhere, huge hibiscus, even poinsettia bushes. Many thanks–

    • You are a great adventurer, Helen, I hope you do make it to Hawaii one day. You’d get amazing photos of the birds and have fun in the waters too. Warm thanks–

  14. What an outstanding post, Jet! Birds are so fascinating and are my next “venture” somewhere in the near future. LOVED you photographs and found the history you gave us of how some birds adapted is fascinating! I was surprised to find out that there are no Hummingbirds on the Hawaiian Islands. And no snakes? None? How you have stirred me deep within …. I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii. *sighs* GORGEOUS photos!! Thank you!!! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

  15. This post is a gluttony of beauty! Wow! From following your blog, I can see why people become “Bird People” I do feel bad about the Honeycreepers, but I feel a good turn can happen because of people like you. OMG… the Java Sparrows look like cousins to the Puffins! Finally, the White Rock Pigeon…. well it rocks me! TY, Jet!

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the birds of Hawaii, Resa. I never thought of the java sparrows as looking like puffin cousins, but you are absolutely right. As for being bird people, I totally agree. We have seen so much more of the world and the wildlife and people in it, by learning the skills of paying attention and admiring everything that surrounds us. I am delighted to share it with you, my friend. Many thanks.

    • Isn’t that an excellent drawing of the honeycreeper bills, and how they have evolved? The man who created it, Douglas Pratt, is a renowned ornithologist of Hawaii’s birds. Thanks so much, RH…I’m heading over to Abaco right now. Can’t wait to see what your latest find is.

  16. Enjoyed your birds from Hawaii! I saw quite of few of these when in Hawaii!

    Loved seeing them again. Thank you!

    I found you through Ingrid’s Wandering Wednesday.


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