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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
Recommended Big Island professional guides:
Professional bird guide: David Kuhn
Kauai bird expert: Jim Denny
Shorelines of the north coast, including James Campbell NWR
Grounds of Pearl Harbor Visitor Center
Additional posts I have written about Hawaii: