Hawaii is a sight to behold for far more reasons than we can reasonably count, but the beauty and diversity of our wildlife rank mighty high on the list.
A quick look at the statistics shows that our islands’ uniqueness isn’t just all in our heads: at 2,500 miles from the closest landmass, Hawaii is the most secluded archipelago in the world. What’s more, 90% of the species that made it to our spectacular shores are found nowhere else on the planet. Show us rare, and we’ll show you absolutely extraordinary: From Hawaiian Monk Seals to Spinner Dolphins, Hawaii is home to some of the most unusual and remarkable creatures on Earth.
Such creatures aren’t relegated to the sea. The birds in Hawaii may span from scarce to common, but spend a moment outside and you’ll note that they’ll always find a way to make themselves known. Some might flaunt their wings right in front of you; others might require a more watchful eye. Either way, the birds on our island are melodious things, providing the soundtrack for many-a-Mauian’s harmonious life.
Whether you’re ziplining Haleakala or hiking an untrodden trail, a budding ornithologist or a casual observer, keep an eye out for one of our beautiful birds:
The Nene isn’t just Hawaii’s official state bird—it’s also exclusive to the islands and considered the rarest goose in the world. Believed to be a relative of the Canada goose, this furrowed-necked mascot was named for its quiet trill. While most Nenes are capable of flight, you’re more likely to see them cruising near ample vegetation. And slow for the signs: Nene Crossings are scattered around the island—those that bike down Haleakala often report seeing Nene as well as all of these special birds.
The Nene might be the official state bird of Hawaii, but few sky dwellers are as evocative of the islands as the myna bird. They whistle while you work, pair for life, breed for several months out of the year, hunt grasshoppers, and, with their communal singing, reign as the chattiest Cathys of the avian world. Originally brought to the islands to combat armyworms in the 19th century, you won’t have to search far to spot one of these gregarious birds: Look for the sunshine-yellow crescents under their eyes.
Consider them the homebodies of the winged world: as “upland” ground birds, Chukar Partridges are content cruising across the ground and calling out rallying cries that, quite literally, sound like a series of chucks.
Emblematic of unrequited love in Middle Eastern cultures, it’s said that Chukar Partridges are infatuated with the moon. They’re commonly seen on the slopes of Haleakala, where the clear night skies may suggest they’re closer to the object of their undying affection.
This scarlet-breasted beauty thrives in tropical climes, where it feasts on insects and seeds. They’ve been roaming the Hawaiian Islands since 1930 and have served as a ground-skipping songbird ever since. Fun fact: Those with a black bill are typically teenagers and may act like one too—many adult cardinals bring them food, despite their similarity in size. (mahalo for everyone’s patience while we searched for a more accurate image.)
Tropical Java Finch
We know why this caged bird sings in Hawaii: It’s mad about rice, which easily goes down as the islands’ most ubiquitous staple. Petite and convivial, Tropical Java Finches have been household centerpieces and the subject of paintings for centuries, often creating tight bonds with their human owners. Out in nature, look for their blush-hued bellies and listen for their distinctive trill, which sounds just like a high-pitched chip.
With its elongated tail and polka-dot necklace, this Chinese starlet travels with an entourage and is often detected by its dramatic displays of flight. Renowned for its unmistakable and oh-so-charming coo, the Spotted Dove was introduced to Hawaii in the late 1800s and has since become one of the most prevalent birds on the islands. As with most ingénues, it gravitates towards human habitations, thereby taking the guess out of the game for avian spectators.
Bright and white, this leggy beauty is often seen strutting near salt marshes or hunting for moths on one of Maui’s many golf courses. Originally brought to the islands by cattle ranchers for agricultural pest control in the late 1950s, Cattle Egrets feast on everything from crickets to toads. But don’t let their fine-winged elegance fool you: due to their rapid expansion and love of the islands, they’ve placed more than a handful of endemic Hawaiian species at risk.
Ae’o (Hawaiian Stilt)
Spot a Hawaiian Stilt? Consider it an auspicious sign: this gangly but graceful bird is currently on the federal list of endangered species. Usually found in wetlands, Ae’os possess spindly, pink legs—among the longest of birds in the world—and slender black necks. Territorial and aggressive, they exhibit one of the smartest strategies to ward off predators: they band together, hop like mad, flap their wings, and let loose a shrill communal cry, disarming humans and enemies alike.
Francolin pheasants, though not native to Hawaii, have become a prominent avian presence on the islands. Introduced in the mid-20th century for recreational hunting, these charming birds have successfully adapted to the lush tropical environment. The most common species in Hawaii is the Gray Francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus), recognized by its distinctive mottled plumage and a resonant, melodic call that echoes through the forested hillsides. Despite being non-native, they have integrated into the ecosystem, foraging on a diverse diet of seeds, insects, and vegetation. Conservation efforts are now focused on understanding the impact of these introduced species on native flora and fauna, as well as finding a balance to ensure their coexistence with the unique and delicate Hawaiian biodiversity. On Maui, they are usually found in the lower, drier regions of Haleakala, especially in open areas close to Hotel properties.
Let us know which birds we missed! There’s so much to see when bird watching on Maui, so ask us questions! ALOHA!