My 14 Best Bird Watching Spots in Hawaii You Should Try


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Hawaii is an archipelago that is far from the mainland. It has many unique bird species that are not found anywhere else in the world. It can be tricky to decide which are the best birding spots to visit, which is why I compiled this list of best spots for birders visiting Hawaii.

The best bird watching spots in Hawaii are those with natural forests, such as Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Other good birding spots are on the coast at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and from the Kalalau Valley Overlook.

A table giving the most interesting birds you can see at each of my top 14 spots in Hawaii:

PARKRed-tailed Tropicbirds and White-tailed Tropicbird
PARKINTERESTING BIRDS YOU CAN SEE
Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkHawaii Amakihi and Hawaiian Goose
Kealia Pond National Wildlife RefugeHawaiian Coot and Black-necked Stilt
Haleakala National ParkʻIʻiwi and Apapane
Koke`e State Park Anianiau and Wedge-tailed Shearwater
Kilauea Point National Wildlife RefugeRed-footed Booby and Laysan Albatross
James Campbell National Wildlife RefugeBlack-footed Albatross and Hawaiian Duck
Ke Ala Hele Makalae TrailRed-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds
Pu’u La’au Hawaiian Short-eared Owl and Palila
Hakalau National Wildlife RefugeʻĀkepa and Akiapōlāʻau
Aimakapa Fishpond and WetlandsPacific Golden-Plover and Wandering Tattler
Koolau Forest ReserveMaui Parrotbill and Red-billed Leiothrix
Kilauea Point National Wildlife RefugeGreater Frigatebird and Masked Booby
Wailua River State ParkHawaiian Coot and Cackling Goose
Hanapepe Peninsula and Salt PondsHawaiian Petrel and Newell’s Shearwater
Best Places to Bird Watch in Hawaii

Read further to find information and details for the best bird watching spots on the Hawaiian islands.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Hawaii
Best Bird Watching Spots in Hawaii

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in Hawaii

There are great bird watching spots found on the various islands of Hawaii. 

  1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

This park is situated on the Big Island of Hawaii and covers an area of 500 square miles. Birds you can see near the visitor center include the following species:

  • Hawaii Elepaio,
  • Omao,
  • Apapane,
  • ʻIʻiwi,
  • and Hawaii Amakihi. 

The Hawaiian Hawk is also often seen in the park. The Hawaiian Goose has been seen while driving along the road, so this is a bird you should keep an eye out for.

Aside from the geese, you can see other species if driving down the Chain of Craters Road. Birds to look for along the way include White-tailed Tropicbird and Pacific Golden-Plover. 

  1. Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge

This park is on the Hawaiian island of Maui. You can look for birds in the ponds by walking around on the levees or on the boardwalk.

This refuge is a good place to see the Hawaiian Coot, which is an endangered species. This coot likes shallow water that has a mix of open areas of water and emergent vegetation.

The Black-necked Stilt in Hawaii is a different subspecies compared to the birds on the mainland. This subspecies is listed as endangered and it also lives in this refuge.

The wetlands are also good for birds like the Black-crowned Night Heron and Ruddy Turnstone. You should also keep an eye out for Sanderlings, Pacific Golden-Plovers, and Wandering Tattlers. 

  1. Haleakala National Park

The park extends from sea level to a height of 10,000 feet and is on the island of Maui. The area known as Hosmer Grove is a good place to find birds such as the Hawaiian Goose.

You can also find indigenous birds known as honeycreepers. The species of honeycreepers to look for in the park are ʻIʻiwi, Apapane, Maui Alauahio, and Hawaii Amakihi.

These birds are not found anywhere else in the United States and are specially adapted to life on the Hawaiian Islands. The park provides an important conservation area for these birds.

  1. Koke`e State Park 

This park is located on the island of Kauai. Koke`e State Park is 4,345 acres of forested habitat, making this a terrific spot to see birds. There are several trails you can hike and you can also camp overnight in the park. 

You can see many bird species, like the Hawaiian Duck, l’iwi, and Apapane. There is a bird species checklist for this park that you can use when planning your trip here.

Anianiau, Kauai Elepaio, and Kauai Amakihi occur in the refuge. The Kalalau Valley Overlook in the park gives views of the ocean where you may spot tropicbirds.

Red-tailed Tropicbirds and White-tailed Tropicbirds are two of the species you can see here. Other oceanic species of birds to look out for include:

  • Newell’s Shearwater,
  • Greater Frigatebird,
  • Red-footed Booby,
  • and Hawaiian Petrel.

You should look for Black-necked Stilts and Ruddy Turnstones, which can be found along the shore in the winter months. 

  1. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is situated on the northwestern side of Kauai. The refuge has been fenced off to prevent predators from accessing the area and preying on the birds. 

The area has large numbers of breeding oceanic birds. You can see species of birds like:

  • Red-footed Booby, 
  • Laysan Albatross,
  • White-tailed Tropicbird,
  • Black-footed Albatross,
  • Brown Booby,
  • Red-tailed Tropicbird,
  • and Wedge-tailed Shearwater. 

The Great Frigatebird and Hawaiian Goose are also recorded from this refuge. Shorebirds that have been found in the refuge before including:

  • Ruddy Turnstones,
  • Pacific Golden-Plovers,
  • and Wandering Tattlers.
  1. James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge was formed in 1976 and is located in the northern part of Oahu. The James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge is more than 160 acres of wetlands, attracting many species of birds.

The idea of this refuge is to conserve endemic species like the Hawaiian Coot and Hawaiian Duck. You can also find the Hawaiian Stilt and Hawaiian Goose living in the refuge.

You need to contact the refuge manager or sign up for a tour in order to access this refuge. Tours are available from October to January and are done on Saturdays. The area has a bird species checklist of 123 species, some of which are exotics. 

However, you can still find native species such as Black-footed Albatross, Brown Booby, Wilson’s Snipe, Bufflehead, Green-winged Teal, Bristle-thighed Curlew, and Red-footed Booby. The species of booby and albatross are oceanic birds that you can find flying over the sea.

There are also terns you can see here, such as the Least Tern and White Tern. Shorebirds to look for here include:

  • Semipalmated Plovers,
  • Least Sandpipers,
  • Terek Sandpipers,
  • Black-tailed Godwits,
  • Marbled Godwits,
  • Stilt Sandpipers,
  • and Western Sandpipers.
  1. Ke Ala Hele Makalae Trail

This trail is about 7 miles and is a good option for bird watchers. It is on the eastern side of Kauai. Since the trail is paved, it is accessible to people in wheelchairs as well.  The trail takes you along the coast, where you can look for oceanic birds.

Birds you can see include Red-tailed Tropicbird and White-tailed Tropicbird. You can also see Black-footed Albatross, Hawaiian Petrel, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, and Laysan Albatross.

  1. Pu’u La’au 

This area is situated on the western side of Mauna Kea. The habitat here is a higher-elevation forest. The birds seen at Pu’u La’au include the Hawaii Elepaio and the Hawaiian Short-eared Owl. Other birds to look for in this area include the Hawaiian Hawk, Akiapola’au, l’iwi, and Amakihi. 

The other reason for visiting this area is to go on the Palila Discovery Trail to see the Palila. The Palila is an endangered species of honeycreeper. There is a bird species checklist you can access to use when you visit this area for bird watching.

  1. Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge

You can visit this 32,733-acre refuge to bird watch but you must contact the refuge first before your visit. This area is on the windward side of Mauna Kea.

It is an important conservation area for birds, providing habitat for such endangered species as the ʻĀkepa and ʻIʻiwi. Another important bird found here is the woodpecker-like honeycreeper, the Akiapōlāʻau.

The Hawaiian Duck, Hawaiian Coot, and Hawaiian Goose are other endemic species that reside in the refuge wetlands.

You should keep an eye out for Hawaiian Hawks and Black-crowned Night Herons, which have also been recorded in the refuge. There is a bird species checklist available for this refuge.

  1. Aimakapa Fishpond and Wetlands

This pond is located in Kalaoa, Hawaii. Besides the pond, there are also sand dunes, which lead to the coastline and ocean. The bird species found here include the Sanderling, Wandering Tattler, and Pacific Golden-Plover. 

  1. Koolau Forest Reserve

This nature reserve is on the edge of some mountains. The area receives a large amount of rainfall, as much as 300 inches a year.

The forest provides good habitat for many endemic bird species. Examples of bird species you can find in Koolau Forest reserve include:

  • Amakihi,
  • Red-billed Leiothrix,
  • Maui Parrotbill,
  • Akepa,
  • Crested Honeycreeper,
  • and Apapane.
  1. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is known for its seabird colonies. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is on the northern part of Kauai on a 180-foot bluff. You need to make a reservation to visit this area. You can see many oceanic birds from here, including species like the Laysan Albatross and Greater Frigatebird. 

You can also see the Red-footed Booby, Brown Booby, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Noddy, Masked Booby, and Sooty Shearwater. The Hawaiian Goose and Hawaiian Short-eared Owl are also recorded from this refuge. There is an ebird checklist available for use.

There are also gulls that you can see in the area. Glaucous-winged Gulls and Laughing Gulls have been observed in the refuge.

  1. Wailua River State Park

This is a beautiful park in the Wailua River Valley. The lush vegetation and river provide habitats for many species of birds. The park is open daily and you can walk trails and also kayak on the river.

You can find the Hawaiian Goose here and birds on the water include species like the Hawaiian Coot, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, and Cackling Goose. You can also see shorebirds like the Wandering Tattler.

  1. Hanapepe Peninsula and Salt Ponds

The Hanapepe Peninsula is situated on Kauai and provides a good lookout spot to watch for oceanic birds flying over the ocean.

You can see species like:

  • Yellow-billed Tropicbird,
  • Sooty Shearwater,
  • Laysan Albatross,
  • Newell’s Shearwater,
  • Red-footed Booby,
  • Brown-footed Booby,
  • Wedge-tailed Shearwater,
  • and the Hawaiian Petrel. 

There are also salt ponds in the area that are a good place to find Hawaiian Ducks and the Hawaiian subspecies of the Black-necked Stilt. You may also see Hawaiian Gallinules and Black-crowned Night Herons in the ponds.

Best Time to Bird Watch in Hawaii

Hawaii has unique birds that you can find at every time of the year. However, some birds are more abundant at certain times. Some species migrate from the South Pacific to Hawaii.

TYPES OF BIRDSSEASON
Ruddy Turnstone and BrantWinter
Bristle-thighed Curlew and Hawaiian PetrelSummer
Best Time to Bird Watch in Hawaii

The Hawaii State Bird

Hawaiian Goose - The Hawaii State Bird
Hawaiian Goose – The Hawaii State Bird

The Hawaii State Bird is the Hawaiian Goose, the Nēnē (Branta canadensis). The goose is a medium-sized bird with black on its head and tail.

The neck has a buffy color and the rest of the body is a brown and gray color with bars on the wings and back. The legs and tail are black.

These birds are adapted to walking on lava and they also nest on the ground. The ground-nesting habit makes the birds vulnerable to introduced predators. The bird has been reintroduced in some parts of Hawaii and the population of the geese is being closely monitored.

Bird Watching Laws in Hawaii

Hawaii has a state endangered species law that provides protection for several indigenous endemic bird species. There is also a law that was enacted in 2013 that bans the artificial feeding of feral birds.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

Bird Watching Ethics

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.

Conclusion

Hawaii is approximately 2000 miles from the U.S. mainland. It offers an opportunity to see birds you will not find elsewhere in the world.

ňThe beautiful lush forests and rugged coastlines of Hawaii are scenically beautiful and provide habitats for many different species. Hawaii is a state you should definitely visit to add to your life list.

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

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