Hawaii is a dream destination for travelers all over the world, and its unique tropical climate, pristine beaches, diverse landforms, and unique location also make Hawaii exceptional for birders. More than 350 bird species have been recorded in the Hawaiian islands, including 59 endemic birds found nowhere else on Earth. Furthermore, introduced birds from North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia, while not native to Hawaii, give birders the opportunity to see species from around the world in one fabulous location. These 25 birds to watch for in Hawaii are just the start of all the amazing birds to see in the Aloha State.
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There is no better place to see seabirds than on islands in the middle of the ocean, and the Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) is easily seen in Hawaii. These large, impressive birds with their nearly 80-inch wingspan nest on Kauai at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, as well as at suitable sites on Oahu and other islands. The laysan albatross is especially noted for having an impressive lifespan, and Wisdom, the oldest banded wild bird in the world, lived to more than 66 years old.
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First introduced to Hawaii in 1927 from its native Japan, the Japanese white-eye (Zosterops japonicus) is now widespread on the islands and is often seen in urban and suburban areas. These small birds travel and forage in small flocks, and as omnivorous birds, they take advantage of a wide variety of foods, including fruit, insects, and nectar. The yellow-green plumage and bold white eye ring are clear and distinctive field marks for these easy-to-see birds.
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Another introduced bird, the red-crested cardinal (Paroaria coronata) first came to Hawaii as a cage bird in the 1930s, imported from South America. These are cosmopolitan songbirds and feel right at home in urban areas, making them easy to see on golf courses, hotel grounds, and in city parks. They typically travel in pairs or small flocks, and while red-crested cardinals are easy to find throughout most of the Hawaiian Islands, they are missing from the Big Island.
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The first parrot to have been introduced to Hawaii, the rose-ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameria) is native to Africa and India, but today is relatively easy to see on Oahu and Kauai, particularly in botanical gardens or on the University of Hawaii campus. These attractive, long-tailed parrots will also come to yards, but they can be very noisy and aren’t always the most welcome guests. They prefer royal palm trees, and travel in small family flocks.Continue to 5 of 25 below.
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The Hawaiian petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis) is an endemic seabird only seen in Hawaii, where it is endangered and threatened by feral cats that disrupt its nesting grounds. These birds nest in burrows and are particularly vulnerable to invasive predators, but conservation efforts are underway to protect the birds. These petrels have a peculiar moaning call that can not only be heard from nesting areas, but is also given while the birds are in flight and can help with identification on pelagic trips.
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The white-rumped shama (Copsychus malabaricus) is a distinctive long-tailed songbird with bold black, orange, and white coloration. These birds were brought to Hawaii from Malaysia in 1931 and today are well established on the islands. They’re easy to see in forested areas and parks, as well as in botanical gardens and even occasionally on beaches where streams bring riparian habitat to the shore. These birds have a pleasant song, making them welcome guests in many areas.
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Also called the barred dove, the zebra dove (Geopelia striata) first arrived in Hawaii in 1922 as an import from Australia. These small doves can be rather tame and may easily approach diners in cafes or outdoor seating areas, hoping for handouts. They are widespread in urban and suburban areas, and can also be found in other lowland habitats. Their heavily barred plumage gives them a distinctive scaly look that separates them from other doves in Hawaii, including the mourning dove and spotted dove.
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One of the most sought-after birds to see in Hawaii, the ‘I’iwi is a native honeycreeper found only in high elevation forests. This bright red bird with its sickle-like bill is easiest to see on Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island, though lucky birders can still spot the bird on Molokai and Oahu in the proper habitat. The ‘I’iwi is particularly attracted to lobelia plants and the rich nectar of their flowers, but will also visit other nectar-rich flowers and may even be seen at nectar feeders.Continue to 9 of 25 below.
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First introduced on Oahu in 1965 from its native Asian range that includes China, India, and Malaysia, the red-whiskered bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus) is an attractive bird with its bold colors and facial pattern, but its habits as an agricultural pest make it less welcome in many areas of Hawaii. These bird are relatively widespread on Oahu, but are not as serious of a problem as the even more widespread and destructive red-vented bulbul, which was introduced on Oahu in 1966.
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When the red-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda) exhibits mating behavior from March through October near Hawaii, birders won’t want to miss its spectacular courtship flights that include wheeling, diving, and flying backwards. These birds are most easily seen near Kauai and Oahu, but are also occasionally spotted near other islands. Birders should take care not to confuse them with these birds with white-tailed tropicbirds or red-billed tropicbirds, both of which can also be easily seen in Hawaii.
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A native African bird, the yellow-fronted canary (Serinus mozambicus) was first introduced to Hawaii in the 1960s. Today, these birds with bold facial markings (look for the X-shape if the bird looks directly at you) are easiest to see on Oahu and the Big Island, and there are especially tame populations around the Honolulu Zoo. Because of their varied diet of both seeds and insects, yellow-fronted canaries will also readily come to feeding stations in yards and gardens.
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One of three endemic elepaio species in Hawaii, the Hawaiian elepaio (Chasiempsis sandwichensis) is a forest bird that often stays concealed and can be challenging to spot, thanks to bold markings that blend in well with dappled shade and shadows. These birds are typically found at higher forest elevations, but do occasionally wander to lower regions. They have bold, curious personalities, and often respond to pishing to give birders outstanding and memorable views.Continue to 13 of 25 below.
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Endemic to Hawaii, the palila (Loxiodes bailleui) is a native honeycreeper species with a large, bulbous bill perfect for cracking open seedpods or fruit husks. Palilas are most typically found on the dry mountain slopes of Mauna Kea, and their 2-3 note whistling call is often heard before the birds can be easily seen. These birds are endangered, and preservation of their preferred habitat is critical to protect the species.
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The Erckel’s francolin (Francolinus erckelii) was first introduced to Hawaii in 1957, though these birds are native to northern Africa in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Eritrea. These game birds prefer open grassland habitats and can often be found in pastures, particularly on Kauai and the Big Island, though they are present on all of Hawaii’s main islands. Their bold markings and obvious round shape make identification easy, as does their distinctive call which has earned them the nickname “laughing bird.”
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No visit to Hawaii would be complete without spotting the official state bird, the nene (Branta sandvicensis). These small geese are endemic to Hawaii and endangered besides, making them a target bird for many birders visiting the Aloha State. Fortunately, they are heavily protected and can be easily seen in many areas, including on Kauai, Maui, Molokai, and the Big Island. In some areas they can seem quite tame, but they are best left alone because the penalties for disturbing nenes can be quite severe.
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One of the more challenging birds to see in Hawaii, the Hawaiian owl (Asio flammeus sandwichensis) is an endemic subspecies of the short-eared owl. Locally, these birds are called pueos, and they are found in open grassland and pasture areas where they are able to hunt more easily. They are most active in twilight periods at dawn and dusk, but can occasionally be seen hunting during stronger daylight hours, particularly when there may be hungry owlets to feed.Continue to 17 of 25 below.
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It can be surprising for birders to see a bird most commonly associated with the prairies and pastures of western North America in Hawaii, but the western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) was introduced to Kauai in 1931, and it has become established there. The bold plumage colors and the distinctive black necklace make this grassland bird easy to identify, along with its cheerful song and habit of singing from exposed perches where birders can easily see it.
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Hawaii’s amazing beaches make it an amazing place to see shorebirds, and the sharp-tailed sandpiper (Calidris acuminate) is one of the most boldly marked and distinctive. These birds breed in Siberia but spend winters in Australia, and during migration they often visit Hawaii to rest and refuel. Shallow ponds, wetlands, and mudflats are the best places to spot these migrating sandpipers, though they are also seen on beaches, particularly around river mouths.
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The red-footed booby (Sula sula) is the most common of the three types of boobies found in Hawaii, and it is easier to see than the masked booby or the brown booby. The bright red feet of this seabird are most colorful during the mating season and stand out well against the bird’s white plumage. The easiest place to spot these boobies is on the rocky hillsides adjacent to the lighthouse at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai, where the birds may nest in rookeries of hundreds or thousands of pairs.
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A bold, large plover, the Pacific golden-plover (Pluvialis fulva) is one of the most common winter migrants to visit Hawaii after the breeding season. These birds can easily be seen in a variety of open spaces, including golf courses, parks, and athletic fields. They typically arrive in Hawaii in August and won’t leave again until May, by which time they’ve changed into their bold breeding plumage instead of their more camouflaged winter appearance.Continue to 21 of 25 below.
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With its gentle countenance, innocent expression, and pure-white plumage, the white tern (Gygis alba) is a highly desirable bird to see in Hawaii. It is found in the northwestern part of the island chain as well as on the southern shore of Oahu, and prefers large trees with sturdy horizontal branches for roosting and nesting. The branches are particularly important as these birds lay their single egg directly on a bare branch.
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The bristle-thighed curlew (Numenius tahitiensis) is a large but shy shorebird that winters primarily on Pacific islands, including Hawaii. With its long, deeply curved bill and large size, it is easy to identify, but could be mistaken for the whimbrel, which is rarely but regularly seen on Hawaii. The bristle-thighed curlew is slightly larger with more curve to its bill. This bird can be seen in areas of short, grassy habitats as well as isolated sand dunes.
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A suave-looking bird with smooth plumage and mellow coloring, the brown noddy (Anous stolidus) nests on Hawaii from May through August. These birds are easy to identify because of their distinctive look, and in flight they have a steady, purposeful flight pattern that can help with identification. Take care not to confuse brown noddies with the endemic Hawaiian noddy, however: brown noddies have dark legs and feet while Hawaiian noddies have orange-yellow legs and feet.
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The most easily recognized bird in Hawaii, the common myna (Acridotheres tristis) was introduced to the islands from India in 1865. Today it is widespread and can be found walking through parks, gardens, and other urban and suburban areas on all the islands. This bird is familiar in many other areas as well, as it has also been successfully introduced to areas of Florida, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Madagascar, and South Africa.Continue to 25 of 25 below.
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The northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a surprising bird to see in Hawaii, particularly for birders from the eastern United States and Canada who may be most familiar with this jaunty red bird from their feeders back home. The northern cardinal was introduced to Hawaii in the 1920s, and today is easily found on all the major islands. It readily comes to feeders and happily brightens birders’ yards along with other introduced and native species.
These 25 birds are just a few of the best birds to see in Hawaii, but if a trip to Hawaii isn’t in your birding travel budget, consider these other amazing destinations to explore!