Hawaii may be known for its beautiful native species of birds, but sadly most of them are highly endangered and/or found only in upland areas, far from where most visitors go. However, it’s easy to spot the colorful bevy of introduced birds that hang out near beaches, hotels and lowland areas — especially since some of them make plenty of noise, too. No need to wing it when it comes to identifying them; simply take this nonnative bird checklist with you, or study it in your nest before you go.
Featured photo: Kvnga via Unsplash.
This small white heron with a curved neck and long legs really pops out in the green parks and fields where it hangs out looking for insects — especially any of the flies attracted to cattle, as its name implies. Ranchers brought some to the islands from Florida in 1959 to help control those flies, but these birds have long since flew the coop, so to speak. Watch one hunt and peck a worm here.
It’s a good thing rice is no longer grown commercially in Hawaii, because these pretty birds originally from Indonesia can devastate crops. Introduced sometime in the 1960s, these plump species of finch (despite the name) boast a bright, thick red beak, a black cap and tail, gray wings, pink belly and a red ring around their eyes. Listen to its cheep-cheep-cheep call here.
Imported from South Asia in 1865 to battle army worms, these brash birds (also known as myna) have become their own territorial army, billeting just about anywhere, raiding other birds’ nests, scavenging for food and fighting each other. Their black head and russet-brown coat with black and white underwings are offset by flashy yellow eye patches, beak and legs. The sound of them gathering en masse at sundown is also striking; click here to listen to a solo “call” and a group “song.”
Little Red Riding Hood has a spirit animal in this cutie from South America, a denizen of Hawaii since the early 1930s. Also known as the Brazilian cardinal, it has a crimson head and pompadour that contrast brightly with its gray wings and beak and its white ruff and belly. Click here for samples of its cheery call.
These South American birds with bright yellow feathers arrived in the ’60s like hippies in tie-dye, and like their bohemian counterparts, typically flock together, either in pairs or larger groups. Male saffron finches look like they’re blushing, with soft orange hue around their faces, while both genders have some olive-green feathers on their back. Their whistling song is also sweet.
It’s fun just to say the name of this 1930s import from Southeast Asia, famed for its melodious song. Its long black tail feathers with a white underside and its oriole-like orange underbelly are also distinctive, but its friendly, inquisitive behavior may be even more captivating; witness this video of two eating out of the hand of a guide on the Hawaii Organic Noni farm tour on Kauai.
Wild Chickens (Moa)
Part red junglefowl, part domesticated chicken, and all over Kauai — plus increasingly on Maui, Oahu and Hawaii Island — these roadside attractions sport red, black and emerald green plumage, sometimes dappled with gold and brown. You think California cows are happy? Hawaii roosters love to crow about their situation at all hours, which is why some Garden Island lodgings supply earplugs.
These gray doves with a pale blue stripe around their eyes and beak and zebra-like ruffled feathers congregate anywhere there’s food, pecking at crumbs under your table or seeds and bugs on the ground. So basically, they’re everywhere, as is the sound of their cooing.
Want more details about Hawaii’s birds and where to find them? Check out the state-sponsored Hawaii Birding Trails website and the annual Hawaii Island Festival of Birds.