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Bird Watching in Hawaii

Endangered Hawaiin geese (Nene) on Kauai in early morning light

Bird watching or “birding” in Hawaii can be a wonderful way to spend part of your Hawaii vacation. Each Hawaiian Island has its own collection of avian residents which present amazing opportunities for bird-lovers to observe a relatively small, but mostly unique ,species in a tropical setting. Around 90% of animals on the islands of Hawaii are found nowhere else in the world. Of this group of animals, there are 285 species of birds which are currently identified and categorized.

Due to its far-flung location, around 2,500 miles from its nearest neighboring continent, and highly unique habitats, the Hawaiian Islands provide some of the most interesting places for nature lovers.  While Hawaii only has .25% of the land mass in the US, it has over 25% of the endangered species in the country and many of them are birds. Among the causes for their extinctions include:  loss of habitation, over hunting, introduction of non-native diseases and predators.

In fact, many scientists have called Hawaii the extinction capital of the world. Some of these highly threatened species include the pueo, a subspecies of the short-eared owl and the alala, the Hawaiian crow, which sadly no longer exists in the wild and survives only in captivity. So bird watching in Hawaii offers a unique opportunity for visitors to see some of the Aloha State’s most rare and endangered wildlife.

The Big Island is home to the world renowned Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which offers some of the most easily accessible bird watching opportunities. The Big Island provides lots of opportunities to find and observe forest birds, many of them rare and endangered. The island is the exclusive habitat to the rare ‘io or Hawaiian hawk and the Hawaii akepa honeycreeper. According to the Hawaii Audubon Society, the best place for birding on the island is the Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge. Portions of the Refuge are open to the public, but permission is required for entry. You can contact the management office for further information at (808) 933-6915.

Kauai offers a great variety of birding opportunities including sea and forest birds. Here, you can find the anianiau, a honeycreeper found nowhere else in Hawaii as well as in the world. One of the best place to observe forest birds on the island of Kauai is Koke’e State Park. But if you would prefer a more isolated terrain, then the Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve can provide many of the same birding opportunities as Koke’e State Park. Seabirds are an integral part of Kauai’s wildlife and bird watchers can expect to find species such as white-tailed tropicbirds, great frigatebirds and wedge-tailed shearwaters along the scenic coasts of the Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge.

Maui offers some of the best opportunities for bird watchers to find and observe forest birds. On the slopes of Haleakala, you can find the one of the most popular birds in the Aloha State, which also happens to be the state bird of Hawaii, the nene goose, which is an endangered species found nowhere else in the world. Those serious about bird watching can find out about the guided hikes offered by the National Park Service which meanders into the neighboring Waikamoi Preserve where some of the rarer species of birds, such as the akohekohe or crested honeycreeper and the kiwikiu or Maui parrotbill, can sometimes be found.  To find water birds on Maui, the best bet is to visit the Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Refuge and the Kealia National Wildlife Refuge.

One of the best places to view birds on Molokai is the Kamakou Preserve where you can find honeycreepers like the amakihi, i’iwi and the apapane. If you plan to visit the Refuge, it is required to make prior arrangements. To do so you can call (808) 553-5236.

Compared to the other islands, Oahu has relatively few remaining endemic forest birds, so the best opportunity here is to seek out sea birds. One of the best locations to look for sea birds, such as albatross, boobies, and petrels, is at the picturesque Makapu’u Point Lighthouse, which has a paved hiking trail leading to it, making access quite easy. If you are looking for endemic water birds, another good place is the Enchanted Lake Bird Sanctuary in Kailua. Another place to see sea birds in action on the island is at the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge in Kahuku. Here along the marshlands, you might be able to see the endangered long-legged ae’o or Hawaiian stilt, a subspecies of the black-necked stilt. If you plan to go there be sure to make tour reservations by calling (808) 637-6330.


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