As a child, I was lucky enough to spend a few days in the tiny mountain ranger cabins on Kilauea. As the sun lit the rainforest, a sleepy blanket of mist rose ever so slowly above the grassy field and adjoining Ohia and fern forest. In the forest, the rangers were tagging native birds and had caught a bright scarlet Apapane in their mist net. They provided myself and the rest of the school children a quick and fleeting glimpse of that small, frail Apapane and then banded it and set it free to once more grace the O'hia forest. They also told me of the plight of the native birds and how non-native predation by the mongoose, rat and wild boar and the spread of avian malaria continued to take a toll on native Hawaiian bird diversity.
In fact, there were once over fifty-five native species of Hawaiian Honey-creepers, all descended from initial cardueline finch migrants. Now, all but 18 species have gone extinct; some, as with the Mamo have gone extinct within the last century and while others still cling on at the mere edge of extinction and yet still others have been forced, by the loss of native habitat and the destruction of native Lobelia species by feral pigs, to adapt to new food sources such as the O'hia and the non-native octopus tree.
The memory of my childhood visit to the Kilauea cabins has stayed with me for over twenty five years and the rareity and fragility of that special environment, compells me to share some of that world with you now. Following are a few photos of Hawaii's birds, both native and introduced, along with the stories that come with them. Some mostly rare native birds are discussed below as well.
The Hawaiian Nene Goose bears a strong resemblance to the Canada Goose and is a descendant of Canada Geese or their forebearers blown far off course in pre-human times. There were originally at least two Canada goose derived species, the current Nene Goose and a similar but giant flightless goose. The latter quickly went extinct upon the arrival of the early Polynesians. The Nene, while driven to the brink of extinction, are now protected and successfully live on the barren lava strewn slopes of Kilauea, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Haleakala.
The Nene Goose has largely lost the webbing between their toes, spending its time on dry land. Their diet consists largely of berries (the Kukae Nene berry, the 'Ohelo berry and the Pukiawe berry -- see the plant page for photos). They survived in early Hawaii on the slopes between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, largely because the plateau between the two volcanos was considered kapu (off limits). This particular Nene was part of a duo hanging out begging for handouts at one of the lookouts on Haleakala and was woefully pecking at some truly greasy looking sandwich remnants (which we tossed into the garbage). In general, however, they live in grassy/shrubby areas along the slopes of the volcano where they can browse in peace. I've also seen them flying wild in my back yard at Mele Kohola on the Big Island.
This Chukar was walking across the side road leading to a view area on Haleakala along with about six or eight little chicks (one shown). We rolled down the window on the rental car and snapped a dozen or so pictures with the Nikon D200 and 200mm Zoom before leaving them to forage alongside the road. The rest of the chicks were hiding under the rock. The car in back of us didn't even notice them. They were probably wondering why we were stopped on the side of the road and keeping them from rushing to the scenic spot (grin) but I think we got the best view of all.
The Brazilian Cardinals tend to hang out at sea level in warm areas. This one was near Queen Kapiolani park on Oahu. You can see them looking for scraps in the lawn or begging for rice or bread crumbs. They are pretty common at sea level in the parks, particularly where people feed them. There used to also be a fair number of American Cardinals (the pure red ones) in the mountains when I was a kid. However, their numbers appeared to decrease when the Bulbuls were introduced. They are still present, particularly in forested areas, but in fewer numbers.
There are Cattle Egrets along the beaches, especially along large grassy lawns that don't have too many people. Freshly mown lawns are particularly interesting to them. My favorite cattle egret viewing spot is near Chinaman's Hat on Oahu and the Seaside Restaurant in Hilo. However, they are fairly common; you'll find them strolling along the grass in the beach parks or catching grasshoppers in the ground cover next to the hotels. They're not especially shy so you can get a decent photo if you have a zoom lens.
The Golden Plover or Kolea (Pluvialis fulva) is a frequent seasonal visitor to the Islands. I remember them in the field in back of my elementary school when I was a kid. They were pretty shy back then but they seem tamer these days, perhaps because they are not on the playground at an elementary school! This plover came walking right up to me. So, I just froze and snapped a dozen pictures. Some of them have a lot more yellow than this one, truly earning the name "golden" plover. I generally see these in grassy fields within a few miles of the ocean.
The Koloa or Anas wyvilliana has been known to interbreed with the Mallard and it is not known if pure strains still exists. Could this be a Koloa or is it just a just another Mallard? Or, perhaps it is a hybrid. It looks pretty Koloa-like but gosh if that beak isn't the wrong color (dark rather than orangish)... As opposed to the Mallards, however, male Koloa do not have those bright green mallard heads and are instead, quite similar to the females in their brown coloration, perhaps with a little swatch/band of color behind the eye. This particular duck was grazing on seaweed off the breakwater at Queen's Surf in Waikiki.
Female Oahu Amakihi high up on one of the ko'olau range ridge trails. They can also be found near the peaks of the Waianae range above Schofield Barracks. They're a rather uncommon sight these days. This one lives in a Russian Pepper Tree right next to a large Octopus Tree. It has adapted to sipping the nectar from the Octopus Tree flowers and can be regularly found feeding there.
We used to see Frigate Birds fairly often along the Oahu coast when I was a kid, especially out on the West side of the island along the Waianae Coast. There was always something eerie about those huge black sillouetes circling overhead, kind of like buzzards of the sea. Dad told me that the old Hawaiians believed that seeing a frigate bird meant someone had died. You almost never see them on Oahu anymore except, periodically, near the Makapu lighthouse lookout. However, there was a large nesting colony of them on Molokini atoll circling lazily through the skies when I last visited. Occasionally, one would swoop low over the boat looking for handouts. As far as I know, nobody died. Good thing that.
The Red-Vented Bulbul used to be uncommon when I was a kid. I always considered it quite a treat when I saw them since they reminded me of American Cardinals but in black. Apparently, they have become quite a pest since then, being known for eating orchid buds and fruit, and are now quite common. This one was hanging off of the roots of a large banyan at the Honolulu Zoo.
Mynah Birds were originally brought to Hawaii as pets way back. My Dad told me they used to cut their tongues so they could talk (which seems really mean to me but hey, who am I to judge?). I vaguely remember a few talking mynahs in cages when I was a kid. They have long since escaped captivity and are very common in lowland areas by the sea where large flocks of them can create a huge ruckous (think crows). In fact, they will roost communally in large banyan trees and the resulty roar around dusk can be deafening.
The Black-Necked Stilt is endemic to Hawaii and feeds and nests in shallow salt water flats near the sea. I saw my first black-necked stilt at a young child near Waiamea bay in a dried up river outlet during the Summer. I did not see another until last Summer. There is a little preserve where Hawks bill turtles and Black-Necked Stilts both come to nest near Maalea on Maui (where the Hawk's bill turtles brave crossing the two lane highway to get to the nesting area no less!). Ironically, I had no idea it was there as most preserves are not advertised. However, I could see the stilts flying into the low lying foliage from the narrow two-lane highway and was determined to snap a few pictures. The picture to the left was one of them. I've also seen them in the grassy mud flats in Kaneohe on Oahu. They look very similar to the Black-necked stilts on the mainland and, unless you stare at the head coloration for a while, they're hard to distinguish other than by location. I've also seen these in Kaneohe on Oahu.
I popped in to visit Mom for Christmas and, as always, the camera follows me everywhere. I snapped pictures of a few birds while driving around Oahu. I hope you enjoy them.
Black-Necked Stilt or Ae'O. Himantropus mexicanus knudseni. I had the opportunity to see the North American strain of these in San Diego and they are admittedly quite similar although the Hawaiian variety has somewhat more black on their heads. These two are from Oahu (Kaneohe) while the one pictured above was from Maui. Do they look different? Hahah! I think they just might.
I dare say Christmas was rainy. Consequently, I was hanging out by the water (where it is generally sunnier) as was this 'Alae 'Ula or Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus sandvicensis). As you can tell from the name, these are an endemic variety (Hawaii used to be called the Sandwich Isles after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, by Captain Cook). Some Hawaiians say these little guys brought fire from the gods and, to look at their bright beaks, you could see how they might say so. This one was at Waimea park on the North Shore of Oahu.
Koloa or Anas wyvilliana. Okay, I couldn't resist putting this guy in just to prove a point: wild birds are everywhere! Carry your camera with you and good things happen. This is the female of a pair of Koloa that splashed down in Waikiki to munch on bread from the tourists and seaweed off of the rocks. Note the proper beak color as opposed to my buddy up above.
Majiro or Japanese White Eye, Zosterops japonicus. Sorry for the repeat but he was being so photogenic on the Coral Tree, I couldn't resist. They are very plentiful and can be easily identified by the white eye patch and by their high pitched short, repetitive "ee" song. They are very adaptable and may be found in tree habitat from the ocean up to the volcanic slopes, particularly in alterred habitat. These majiro were in the park area at the start of the Diamond Head lookout trail. They are, however, spread all throughout the islands across a wide variety of environments.
Red-Billed Leiothrix or Leiothrix lutea. This is a forest bird that will pop up to feeders and lawns for a free snack. It was introduced from Asia. This one was photographed in Manoa outside the Tree Top restaurant where it was apparently lunching on spaghetti noodles tossed out on the lawn.
'Akekeke or Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres). I suspect the Hawaiian name is from their call. These guys were browsing in a lawn on the windward side of the island in large numbers along with friendly Cattle egrets. These are Winter visitors who migrate back to the Arctic in the Summer. You can see these at Ala Moana Beach Park and at Kualoa Park.
Hunakai or Sanderling (Caldris alba). Another Winter visitor; Sanderlings Summer and breed in the Arctic. These two were digging in the sand for small invertebrates, running up and down with the huge waves at Sunset Beach. They walked right up to me and posed.
I dare say I spent more time in the water photographing fish rather than birds the following Christmas but here are a few new ones that I chanced upon.
Rose-ringed Parakeet, Psittacula krameri, mature female. This is an Asian and African species that appears to have naturalized in Hawaii. This one was resting high up in a massive Quipo tree (Cavanillisea platanifolia) at the Foster Botanical Gardens.
Red-footed Booby, White morph, Sula sula or, in Hawaiian, 'A. I spotted small flocks of the white morphs flitting above the waves of Makapu. Some flew so close they were just over the heads of the surfers below. While Booby Birds are known to be ungainly on the ground, they are powerful and graceful in flight. They nest in large colonies yet, hard as I might peer through my zoom, I failed to see any flecks of white on the bird sanctuary just off the coast. Perhaps it was just the wrong time of year or perhaps they were nesting on the volcanic cliffs of Makapu.
Red-footed Booby, Brown morph, Sula sula or, in Hawaiian, 'A. Apparently, there is a white morph, a brown morph and a white-tailed brown morph. This Brown Morph had me stumped for a little while since most of the Booby pictures out there are of the white morph. I kept thinking this little Booby looked exactly like the white morph with that telltale blue beak but he was brown! This very tame Brown Morph hopped up on a boat in Kaneohe to beg for food. Perhaps he was hand-raised by humans. He's now a greeter at Sealife Park and enjoys all the food he can eat for his ambassadorial duties.
I recently have the great pleasure to spend two weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii, much of it spent photographing the native birds way up on the Volcanic slopes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. I had a wonderful time and came back with thousands of pictures! In fact, I highly advise the experience, if you ever get a chance. Bring a big lens (500mm is perfect) and a fast camera (the rainforest is often shrouded in mist and rain so, if you do not have the luxury of coming back or waiting until there is a patch of sun way up on the cloud-swept volcanic slopes, you may want to shoot at a high ASA). As I get a chance, I will add some of these pictures to the site. Here are a few for now.
Hawaii Amakihi, photographed right in the parking lot at Kilauea Iki in Volcano National Park! That parking lot is one of the easiest places to photograph the Hawaiian Honeycreepers. Get a good long lens, show up on a sunny day and watch the tree tops in the parking lot!
An unidentified honeycreeper, perhaps a juvenile Apapane, again at Kilauea Iki. I checked my bird books and the Internet but no brown bird with that particular beak. Call me crazy but it looks like a brown Apapane, possibly a young juvenile/fledgling. I've seen juvenile Apapane that are brownish with flecks of red feathers coming in so perhaps this one is just a little younger. Check out the next picture and see if you agree.
Adult Apapane in an old, tall Ohia Tree. If you want to find Apapane, look for a large Ohia tree in full bloom and wait for them to come by for the nectar. Apapane reputedly migrate between the islands, maintaining small populations on most of the major islands and healthy populations on Hawaii and Maui.
Noio, Black Noddy, Anous minutus malanogenys. This lovely little seabird is part of a small flock that nests in the sea caves along the coast near Mele Kohola. This is one of a pair and flew in and out of a nearby sea cave under the wave splash, particularly in the mornings and late afternoon, presumably to feed chicks and/or tend to a nest.
Hawaii Elepaio, Chasiempis sandwichensis sandwichensis. These little birds are typically found far from frequently traveled areas, deep in the ohia and koa forest. The nice rangers at the Kilauea Ranger Station showed me how to make a screachy sound by (more or less) kissing the back of your hand to attract curious male elepaio. While a little dubious at first, I must admit that it worked. This little guy (note: females have a white chin and males have a chin that is white speckled with black) came down to check me out. It's pretty tough to make that noise with one hand and focus and carry a 500mm lens at the same time but I managed to snap a few pictures before he bored of checking me out and flew away. This one was a couple of Kipukas in off of the rainforests along the saddle road above Hilo.
I'iwi, Vestiaria, coccinea. While once found on all of the major islands, I'iwi are now largely limited to high altitude forests of Kauai, Maui and Hawaii (Big Island). This may be due to the effects of avian malaria and avian pox carrying mosquitos at lower elevations. The feathers of these brilliant scarlet birds adorned the capes and crests of Hawaiian royalty. While not considered rare relative to some of the other (ahem) really rare honey creepers, I had a beast of a time getting a photo of an i'iwi, having to go high up to the isolated Kipukas along the way from Hilo to the the Saddle road. There were most active before noon, disappearing as the day heated up.
House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus. While hiking between kipukas (small forested areas surrounded by lava flows), I saw small flocks of these birds flitting from tree to tree. They were too far away to identify so I, as I so often do, snapped some pictures to enlarge on the computer and identify later. As far as I can tell, they appear to be House Finches living along the more open areas between the kipukas.
Hawaiian Hawk, 'Io, Buteo solitaris. While once found on most of the major islands, these are now limited to the Big Island (Hawai'i) where they forage for insects, small rodents and small birds. This one, however, was raised by hand and was too domesticated to reintroduce to the wild. He still resides at the Panaewa Zoo as a reminder of the few remaining endigenous Hawaiian birds.
Yellow-Billed Cardinal, Paroaria capitata. These little birds are natives of Brazil, Paraquay, Bolivia and Northern Argentina. They have naturalized into the lowland scrub areas of the Big Island, particularly on the hot, dry leeward side of the island. This one was begging for morsels at the Punalu'u Bakery. They were very tame, even hopping up on your tray if you had food. You can differentiate them from the Brazilian Carinals due to the lack of a crest.
Saffron Finch, Sicalis flaveola. These brilliant little birds are natives of the lowlands of the Amazon Basin. In Hawaii, they can be found on the hotter, leeward side of the island. This one was part of a small flock foraging in the grass under a large mango tree outside the Punalu'u Bakery.
Kalij Pheasant, Lophura leucomelanos. This stately bird is native to the foothills surrounding the Himalayas. They may be found in and near Kipuka Puaulu (Bird Park) where some of them are tame enough to come out of the undergrowth to beg for food (obviously somebody is feeding them...). A couple actually came right up to me on the trail as I was taking pictures.
Hawaiian thrush, Myadestes obscurus, Oma'o. While multiple Hawaiian thrushe species were once found on the major Hawaiian islands, all but the Oma'o and the Puaiohi, are now exinct . The Oma'o is moderately common in the rainforests of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, detectable by their loud, melodious call. They are, however, tough to photograph as they tend to hang out in the dark interior and lower branches of the trees where they, as this one is illustrating, forage through the moss and lichens for food. They are reported to eat olapa and pilo fruit although this photo suggests a broader omnivorous diet that includes bugs, snails and worms.
Common Waxbill, Estrilda astrid, is in the finch family and is native to subsaharan Africa. These birds can be found on grassy lawns in Hawaii where they eat the grass seeds. This particular bird was part of a flock at the Foster Botanical Gardens. These birds are tiny, perhaps a little bigger than a thumb's length and cute, cute, cute!
Wild Chickens or Moa in Hawaiian. The wild chickens were first introduced by the early Hawaiians. There is now a healthy feral population of them. There is a good sized flock of them outside the Tree Top Restaurant deep in Manoa Valley on Oahu but they can be seen throughout the islands.
Cockatoo, likely Cacatua galerita, the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo. There's a reliable flock of about 6 birds at the Tree House Restaurant deep in Manoa Valley on Oahu. They are likely escapees and their descendents from the former bird park, Paradise Park. You can see them glide by if you get a window seat at the Tree House Restaurant. Getting a decent picture of them, particularly on one of those numerous cloudy Manoa days, is another story.
The Hawaiian Owl or Pueo, Asio flammeus sandwichensis. These are endangered on Oahu and are becoming sparse throughout the major Hawaiian Islands. As opposed to most owls, the Hawaiian owls are diurnal, preferring to hunt during the day. They nest in open fields and are subject to predation by mongoose, feral cats and wild boar. Note that Hawaii also has a modest population of barn owls that nest in trees and hunt by night.
Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax. This juvenile was perched up high, keeping a wary eye out for dinner. The juvenile plumage is quite different than the adult plumage shown below. You can find these in Kailua along the river and also, occasionally, at the Honolulu Zoo up in the trees.
Sooty Tern (Onychoprion fuscatus) or 'Ewa 'ewa (cacophony) in Hawaiian. Referred to as manutara (tern or common tern) elsewhere in Polynesia. A fair number of these terns were flying above the Makapu'u cliffs on a particularly windy day.
Red-tailed Tropicbird, Phaethon rubricauda, or Koa'e 'ula in Hawaiian. Several of these birds were spotted flying high above the Makapu'u cliffs on Oahu on a particularly windy day (onshore wind). These birds normally feed far out at sea where they dive for squid and flying fish. They nest in low scrub, often on isolated atolls. They are distributed across the Pacific, ranging from Hawaii to as far south as Queensland, Australia and Easter island.
Photography by Dr. Kim Bridges
Mr. Philip Thomas was kind enough to introduce me to the excellent photography of Dr. Kim Bridges (used by permission). I've cropped them down to a size that downloads quickly for those of you with slow Internet links. However, if you would like to see the real McCoy, click HERE.There are a few repeats from above but the photos are great !
This is a Red Cardinal or, when I was a kid, we called them American Cardinals. In latin, Cardinalis cardinalis. They were pretty common back in the 60s and 70s and even showed up in the hills of Oahu. They are a lot less frequent now, possibly being squeezed out the more aggressive birds. It was always a treat to see one. I did see one in 2009 on St. Louis Hts.
The Brazilian Cardinal or Red Crested Cardinal, Paroaria coronata, was introduced in the 1930s and is frequently seen in warm, low lying grassy areas such as Kapiolani park where they can be seen pecking at bugs, seeds and a stray french fry or two. The have done much better than the previously mentioned American Cardinal . There are also a lot of them in Kualoa Regional Park.
This is a Common Waxbill or Estrilda astrild, commonly found eating grass seeds in lawns with that seed piercing, finch-like beak. I've seen these in Kapiolani Park and in Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens in Kaneohe.
The House Sparrow, Passer domesticus, is arguably one of the most successful introductions to the Hawaiian islands. They can be see hopping around your feet at your favorite Hawaiian eatery searching for handouts. They tend to favor the warmer lowland areas.
The Java Finch or Java Sparrow, Padda oryzivora, is another escaped domestic pet. They can be seen in small flocks browsing on grass seed in local lawns. They will also happily eat out of bird feeders with smaller seeds such as millet. There are lots of these at the Magic Island Park on Oahu and also around Kaneohe town.
The Majiro or White Eye, Zosterops japonicus, is generally found in small flocks zipping from fruit to fruit where it tends to peck small holes in tasty fruits like Lichi and Papaya. It is similar in color to some of the Hawaiian honey creepers but is far more likely to be flying through your fruit tree than your flower bed.
Mynah's, Acridotheres tristis, are fairly aggressive and noisy birds. They can be found scavenging in the zoo and in Kapiolani park. At times, large groups of males will congregate in a tree, particularly at dusk, and create an ear thrumming chorus. Hilo Billy's had a flock there most nights and it was quite the sight. In the 60's they used to cut their tongues to enable them to learn to talk. You do have to wonder how someone came up with a distasteful idea like that.
The Red Vented BulBul, Pycnonotus cafer, is often seen in lawns looking for handouts or in shrubs near human habitation. They can be identified by their bright red tail feathers. My Mom had a pair living in our neighbor's Mock Orange Hedge. I thought they were the coolest ever! However, now that they are rather common, they have become an agricultural pest and are known to be injurious to fruit and flower crops (I was told they eat the buds off of orchid sprays...there's no accounting for taste, eh?).
The Ring Neck Dove or Spotted Dove, Streptopelia chinensis, is less common than its Zebra Dove cousin and is seldom seen begging for food at fast food restaurants. We used to have a few that would sneak in for dog food out of the dog dish when we weren't watching. They also made a farely soothing cooing sound early in the morning and are generally about twice the size of the zebra dove. I've noticed that many of the ones at the Dole plantation have deformed feet and I've wondered if it has something to do with exposure to agri-chemicals or perhaps with whatever they are eating there. The sparrows appeared fine.
The Rock Dove or basic pigeon, Columba livia, has successfully established itself all over the world, including two roosting annoying close to my bedroom window. They make a loud, distinctive cooing sound and are pretty good beggars. They also tend to keep to Nesting pairs. When I was a kid, we used to bring bags of rice to feed the pigeons at the zoo where they would follow you (and the food, of course) around the zoo. The Zoo banned pigeon feeding as the pigeon population soared toward general pigeon overpopulation and patrons complained about aerial bombardment.
The White Necked Shama or Shama Thrush, Copsychus malabaricus, is a moderately shy but vocal bird. You will recognize it by it's sweet song long before you see it. They have become moderately common up on the hiking trails. I've seen them up on St. Louis Hts and in Waiamea Park.
Manu O Ku or Fairy Tern, Gygis alba rothschild, is a relatively uncommon bird. You are lucky to site one of these elusive fish feeders. It generally subsists on small fish such as juvenile goat fish and small mullet. It is found as far away as Midway.
Taking Bird Pictures
Now, hypothetically, if you want to take pictures of Hawaii's forest birds, you either need lots of time and multiple trips to catch one out in the sun or you can get a camera with a really sensitive digital sensor (i.e., think not grainy at ASA 1000 or at least ASA 800) and a nice zoom lens that can capture tiny birds at 20-100 feet distance. My suggestion is a Nikon 7000 for the highly sensitive digital sensor and the ability to take high resolution pictures at high ASA and a nice Tamron 200-500mm zoom lens for the flexibility and because, with a plastic body, it's a bit lighter to lug around than some of the faster, more expensive lenses.
Acknowledgments & References
I would like to extend my greatest thanks to the photographers, authors and conservationists, through whose work we are able to glimpse the world of Hawaiian birds. Special thanks to Jack Jeffrey, Jim Denny, H. Douglas Pratt, Tom Fake, and the awesome rangers at the Kilauea Ranger Station, as well as to the USGS, Southwestern Adventist University, the Audobon Society, Sarah Huber, Kilauea Point Natural History Association and the many others that both made this page possible and, in a greater sense, continue to make the wonders of Hawaii's wildlife visible to the greater public. I would like to encourage the interested public to support these individuals both in their efforts to preserve what is left of the fragile Hawaiian ecosystem but also through your patronage of their commercial photography and literature. The photos on this page are not for commercial use. If you are intested in owning photos of native Hawaiian birds, the most stunning Hawaiian bird photography I've ever seen, complements of Mr. Jack Jeffrey, are available at reasonable prices at the Grove Gallery in Hilo. Thank you to all of the contributors of photos for this page. If you would like to contribute to or otherwise modify the content of this page, please send comments, photos, etc. to the author via the home page below. I also have a few photography tips and bird book recommendations for the seriously addicted birder below.