The popular backyard birds of Hawaii are a treat indeed and due to the uniqueness of the environment and extremely low species count we’re going to change things up in the article style for this state. Rather than divide them up by seasons, in this article you will be treated to some hard-to-find facts which are specific to Hawaii’s native birds so that you will be better equipped to identify these rare species should you ever get the chance to visit this most exotic of the 50 states.
Without further ado, let’s get started with the popular backyard birds of Hawaii!
Invasive Species Have Been a Big Problem
In a smaller, contained environment such as an island, the introduction of non-native species can have a staggering impact. Animals such as pigs, cats, rabbits… as well as the introduction of foreign fauna and avian diseases from non-native birds have vastly reduced the number of endemic species. The results – out of 64 native Hawaiian species, 30 have gone extinct and only 34 remain in the wild. Most of the birds on this list can only be seen in Hawaii and we’ll give you location data as we go so that you will know where they may be found.
Let’s Take a Look at the Popular Backyard Birds of Hawaii
What we are going to do next is take a look at 15 of those 34 remaining endemic species. We’ll let you know what they eat in the wild, where they make their homes, and let you know which ones are common and which ones are quite rare due to endangered. Please note, as many of these birds are endangered some of the data which we may provide might be more limited than we would like.
That said, we intend to provide as comprehensive a look at the following species we can:
- Laysan Finch
- Oahu Alauahio
- Laysan Albatross
- Hawaiin Petrel
- Kauai Elepaio
- Oahu Amakihi
- Hawaii Akepa
- Hawaii Amakihi
- Hawaii Creeper
Anianiau – Magumma parva
Coloration and Markings: Anianiau are colorful little birds, with bright yellow backs, faces, and underbellies. Their pointed wings and notched tails, however, are a blackish-gray with a lovely yellow edging. They have long, curved bills which are blackish-gray with a slight pink mixed in and also have another notable feature — their highly specialized tongues. These tongues roll up like a straw to maximize the drinking of nectar.
Size: The smallest of Hawaii’s Honeycreepers, this bird measures in at 4 to 4.5 inches in length and has a wingspan approximately 6 to 7 inches wide.
Habitat: These birds are found in both mesic and wet forests of Kauai, preferring (but not limited to) higher elevations where they are quite the aggressive foragers.
Diet: Anianiau dine most often on nectar but are also fond of foraging in twigs and branches for the occasional spider or it’s eggs.
Laysan Finch – Telespiza cantans
Coloration and Markings: The Laysan Finch is another Hawaiian Honeycreeper that is also known as a ‘Laysan Canary’. These bright little birds have yellow and gray backs as well as short, pointed wings or the same color and perky, medium-length tails. The underbelly of this bird is white, becoming a bright yellow at the breast and facially, these birds have bright yellow faces with a gray ‘collar’ at the throat and stout, curved gray bills.
Size: These Finches measure in at approximately 7.5 inches from tip to tail, with wingspans approximately 12 inches wide.
Habitat: These birds may be found in many locations, such as grassy, shrubby areas, sand dunes, and even near lagoons. They are found in the northwest Hawaiian islands and are specifically native to Laysan island.
Diet: Laysan Finches have quite a varied diet, subsisting on seeds, insects, fruits, and seabird eggs as well. One interesting survival trait that they have developed is the ingestion of carrion, so that when they cannot find their preferred fare these birds can make due with dead albatross or other dead animals which they find.
Oahu Alauahio – Paroreomyza maculata
Coloration and Markings: The endangered and rather finch-like Oahu Alauahio is also known as an Oahu Creeper and coloration will differ based on the gender of the bird. Males are typically olive green above and yellow on their undersides, while females will be gray and green above with a mix of white and coloration below. Females will exhibit a white wingbar on each wing which will not be present on the male. They have short, pointed wings and short, notched tails, and have medium-length, lightly curved bills which may be pink or a mix of pink and black.
Size: These birds measure approximately 4 inches from tip to tail.
Habitat: This critically endangered Honeycreeper is found only on the isle of Oahu and prefers densely forested areas where it may forage by a clever removal of tree bark to get at the delicious insects inside.
Diet: Aside from insects, this bird is also known to enjoy a diet of earthworms and snails.
Iiwi – Drepanis coccinea
Coloration and Markings: The Iiwi is a stunning bird that is quite famous in Hawaiian tradition. Almost completely red, they have short black tails and short, pointy wings which are black starting just below the shoulder area. Facially, they have distinctive red bills which are long and curved dramatically down.
Size: This bird measures in at approximately 5.5 inches in length and has a wingspan of 7 to 8 inches wide.
Habitat: Found on the islands of Hawaii, Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, look for these famous birds anywhere that their favorite lobelia flowers are near.
Diet: When not sipping nectar, the Iiwi bird will catch and devour butterflies, insects, and small crustaceans.
Laysan Albatross – Phoebastria immutabilis
Coloration and Markings: The Layson Albatross has a grayish black back with enormous wings which are the same blackish-gray above but mostly white on the undersides and this bird also has a short tail. The underbelly, breast, and face of this bird are white and there is a distinctive eyestripe that you will notice. These birds have long orange bills which are black tipped and hooked at the ends to make them quite efficient for catching their meals.
Size: These large birds have an average length of 32 inches and wingspans of an impressive 6 feet or more.
Habitat: Considered the second most common seabird in the Hawaiian islands (where 99.7% of their overall population make their homes) , these native birds do migrate and may be found in the French Frigate Shoals, Japan, and even in Mexico.
Diet: The Laysan Albatross subsists primarily on a diet of crustaceans, squid, and fish.
Hawaiian Petrel – Pterodroma sandwichensis
Coloration and Markings: Hawaiian Petrels have gray backs, with long wings that are gray on top and white on the undersides. They have short, gray tails and they have a white rump, underbelly, and breast. Facially, these birds are white at the front of their faces with the top and back of the head being gray in color. These birds have long, hooked black bills.
Size: About half the size of the Laysan Albatross, these birds have an average body length of 16 inches and wingspans about 32 inches wide.
Habitat: These Hawaiian seabirds may be found on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Kauai and Lānai, although they are capable of a long range of migration, with some having been reported as far as the Oregon, Washington, and California coasts.
Diet: Petrels eat crustaceans, squid, and fish and start their foraging just after sunset.
Kauaʻi Elepaio – Chasiempis sclateri
Coloration and Markings: Kaua’i Elpaios are fast-flying beauties and a real treat to see. They have light-gray backs with small, rounded wings that are darker gray or grayish-brown towards the lower half of the wings. 2 white wingbars are also present on each wing and these birds have long, rounded tails. These birds have white at the rump, visible both below and above, and they are also white at the underbelly, but the breast will be a warm cinnamon color which travels upwards and splits after a white spot at the chin. The effect is much like ‘harness lines’, with a thin, cinnamon lie travelling to the bill and one which curves around the cheek to the top and back of the head. The remaining upper portion of the head is gray, with the exception that lighter gray is commonly present around the eyes. These birds have short, slightly curved black bills.
Size: These birds measure approximately 5.25 – 5.75 inches in length and have wingspans of up to 8 inches wide.
Habitat: Found in lush forests of Kaua’i between elevations of 2000 and 3600 feet, the largest concentration of these birds may be found in Koke’e State Park and the Alaka’I Plateau. They are less commonly found in the Na Pali Coast and in Waimea canyon.
Diet: Kaua’I Elpaios have a diet consisting of spiders and insects.
Omao – Myadestes obscurus
Coloration and Markings: The Omao has a rich brown back with medium-length brown wings which are rounded and light gray on the undersides. They have small, rounded tails, and the underbelly and breast of this bird is gray with a light flanking of buff coloration just under the wings. Facially, they have gray chins and gray foreheads, with the remainder of the face being a lovely mix of browns and grays. These birds have straight, medium-length black bills.
Size: These birds measure in at approximately 7 inches from tip to tail and have a wingspan of 8 to 9 inches wide.
Habitat: These birds are most commonly found in the Big Island Rainforest, but have also been spotted in Mauna Loa as well as in savannah regions.
Diet: The Omao eats snails and insects, but is especially fond of sweet fruits.
Akikiki – Oreomystis bairdi
Coloration and Markings: The Akikiki has a soft gray back, with medium-length gray wings which are pointed and short, gray, and fan-shaped tail. The underbelly of this bird is a pale, brownish gray which turns into white at the breast and continues up into the face, where it is present in the chin and at the cheek up until mid-eye. The remaining upper portion of this bird’s head is gray and it has a sharp, curved, and medium-length pinkish-yellow bill.
Size: These small birds measure in at 5 – 5.5 inches in length and have wingspans of approximately 6 to 7 inches in width.
Habitat: Found only in Kauai, these birds spend their time in high-elevation rainforests. They can be spotted but you’ll need to take a climb in either the Koke’e State Park or in the Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve.
Diet: The Akikiki enjoys a diet of spiders and any other rainforest arthropods which this swift bird can catch.
Palila – Loxioides bailleui
Coloration and Markings: The critically-endangered Palila has a gray back, with rounded medium-length gray wings and a medium-length fan-shaped tail. The wings and the tail display an edging pattern of yellowish-green lines but the underbelly and breast of this bird are a snowy white, with the exception of a large, bright-yellow bib coming from the bird’s bright yellow face. A black half-mask is present at the eyes and this bird has a stout, conical black bill.
Size: These birds average 6 – 7 inches in length and have wingspans approximately 8 to 9 inches wide.
Habitat: This bird is only found on the island of Hawaii and in a tiny region, specifically Mauna Keya on the western slope where the mamane plants grow.
Diet: The Alila eats moth larvae, as well as Naio berries, and also a very specialized diet of the seeds and leaves of the toxic Mamae plant. It is able to ingest these without harm and this spreads the plants seeds.
Oahu Amakihi – Chlorodrepanis flava
Coloration and Markings: The Oahu Amakihi has a yellowish-olive back with medium-length rounded wings which are gray at the tips and a short, rounded gray tail. Some olive coloration is also visible at the upper portion of the rump. The underside of the rump is white and this carried on up into the breast, where a light yellowish-olive bib is preset that thins up until underneath the chin. The cheeks, and remainder of this bird’s head are a darker olive color ad a thin, black eyeline is present but terminates just short of the back of the head. This bird has a medium length, noticeably curved black bill.
Size: These tiny Honeycreepers measure in at only 4.2 – 4.5 inches in length and have wingspans of approximately 6 to 7 inches wide.
Habitat: Found in Oahu in the forests you can often spot the Oahu Amakihi at the Waahila Ridge State Recreation Area or in the Honouliuli Preserve. While they prefer wetter areas, you can sometimes spot them in drier forests such as you’d find in the Wai’anae Mountain Range.
Diet: This bird subsists on a diet primarily of spiders, insects, and they also enjoy nectar.
Hawaii Akepa – Loxops coccineus
Coloration and Markings: The very colorful and unfortunately endangered Hawaii Akepa is a sight to behold. Male Akepas have brilliant red to orange and red backs as well as very small and pointed wings which are red at the shoulder but become a reddish-black below this level of the wing. They have short, notched tails which are the same reddish-black above but which are gray below and the underbelly and breast of this bird will be solid red or reddish orange. Facially, this bird is solid red with a medium-length, yellow-orange bill which is sharp and slightly curved. Female Akepas will be an olive green or light canary color instead of red.
Size: These tiny birds measure in at approximately 4 inches from tip to tail and have tiny wingspans reported to be around 2.75 inches wide.
Habitat: These tiny, colorful songbirds are only found in Hawaii (the Big Island) and are also the only birds there known for nesting in tree cavities.
Diet: The Hawaii Akepa has a diet primarily consisting of caterpillars, but it will also dine on spiders and insects that it can catch if it’s favorite fare is not around.
Apapane – Himatione sanguinea
Coloration and Markings: The brilliant Apapane is a deep crimson on its back, underbelly, breast and face. The exception are this birds medium-length, pointed wings which are black at the tips and it’s medium length, black tail which is notched and white on the undersides and at the rump. This bird has a long, slightly curved black bill. These birds are fairly common but they are a spotting which you will definitely remember.
Size: These birds measure in at 5.1 inches in length and have wingspans averaging 5 to 5.1 inches wide.
Habitat: Quite common on the islands of Maui, Oahu, Hawaii (the Big Island), Lanai, Molokai, and Kauai, these birds are generally found close to Ohia trees – their favorite feeding spot.
Diet: Ohia Lehua flower nectar is their preferred snack of choice, but these birds also eat caterpillars and insects.
Hawaii Amakihi – Chlorodrepanis virens
Coloration and Markings: The Hawaii Amakihi has a yellowish-green back with medium-length, rounded wings of the olive-gray and medium-length tails which are rounded and colored olive green and gray on top, but gray and with white highlights below. The underbelly and breast of this bright-bird are yellow and facially, we are back to olive green coloration with a long, thin, and sharply curved black bill.
Size: These birds measure in at approximately 4.5 inches from to tail and have wingspans of 6.5 to 7.5 inches wide.
Habitat: Fond in Hawaii (Big Island),Molokai, and Maui, these birds are quite diverse in the areas which they like to frequent, occurring in shrublands, dry or wet forests, and a wide elevation range going from sea-level to as high as 8000 feet!
Diet: Hawaii Amakihis enjoy a diet of spiders, insects, and sweet nectar.
Hawaii Creeper – Loxops mana
Coloration and Markings: Hawaii Creepers have olive green backs with small, rounded wings and small, notched tails. The wings will be a mix of grays and greens, as it the top of the tail, although the underside of the tail will be black. The underbelly and breast of this bird are a light yellowish-green and facially, this bird is white at the cheeks and the chin while the upper portion of the head is an olive green. A distinctive black mask is present and this bird has a long, sharp, and conical black bill.
Size: These tiny birds measure in at an average length of 4.5 inches and have wingspans of approximately 6 to 7 inches wide.
Habitat: Found only in Hawaii (Big Island), these birds like to forage in trees and as especially fond of Koa when these trees begin to bloom.
Diet: This bird likes to eat insects but it’s favorite food is Koa tree nectar.
Hawaii Bird Buffet
Without resorting to anything exotic you can make Hawaiian birds quite happy when it comes to stocking up your feeders for a visit. One of the best choices is, of course, local fruits as this is what the birds are most used but you can easily make them quite happy with foods such as these:
- Black Oil Sunflower seeds
- Grape jelly
- White Proso millet
- Raisins or berries
- Peanut butter
Hawaii Birding Hot spots
While normally we will list hotspots for seeing your favorite birds In the wild based on compass-points, in Hawaii it can be a little more complicated. We do, however, have some news in the regard as the Depart of Land and natural resources has an excellent trail resource which you may find here:
Through this website you can get started and we recommend using this as well as the location data we provided in our bird descriptions earlier in order to fully customize any birding visit that you will be doing in the Aloha state.
Some Final Words
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this little exploration of birding in the Aloha state of Hawaii. Hawaii offers a number of species that you simply can’t see anywhere else and it’s definitely going to be a scenic journey. Just remember that many of these birds are quite rare so while you can add them to your checklist there are no guarantees.
Of course, as all Birders know, that’s part of fun. We wish you and yours the best!