Exploring Hawaii’s Unique Backyard Birdlife: A Comprehensive Guide to 19 Species
Hawaii, as an American state, boasts a diverse array of birds sourced from various corners of the globe. This article delves into the distinctive avian inhabitants of Hawaiian backyards, providing insights and visuals of 19 different bird species.
Towards the conclusion, we’ll highlight notable birdwatching hotspots and key birding organizations in Hawaii.
How Many Bird Species Call Hawaii Home?
Pinpointing the exact number of bird species in a specific location can be challenging. According to Wikipedia, Hawaii’s official state list currently includes 337 bird species. Notably, only 64 are native to Hawaii, while 130 arrived accidentally and 52 were introduced by humans. Today, native Hawaiian species are often confined to remote forests and mountainous regions, with introduced or accidental species dominating developed areas.
19 Backyard Birds in Hawaii
Several factors influence the bird species you might encounter in your own backyard, such as your proximity to the coast or forests, whether you reside on the “wet or dry” side of the island, and the types of plants and trees in your neighborhood.
To compile a list of commonly reported backyard species, data from Project FeederWatch was utilized. This initiative, spearheaded by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, gathers annual reports from backyard birdwatchers, offering insights into the birds observed in their yards. While this compilation may not encompass every potential visitor to Hawaiian homes, it provides a reliable catalog of 19 species frequently reported by residents.
Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
Known for their impressive ability to mimic the songs of various bird species, Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) are medium-sized, mostly gray songbirds. Characterized by large white patches on their wings and outer tail, these birds can be elusive when not in flight. Often residing in tall bushes, they exhibit aggressiveness towards intruding birds. Introduced to Hawaii in 1928 to aid in pest control, they thrive in the drier regions of the islands, particularly where the Kiawe tree is present.
Scientific name: Paroaria coronata
Contrary to their name and resembling the northern cardinal, the Red-Crested Cardinal (Paroaria coronata) belongs to the tanager family. Native to South America, particularly Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay, these birds are distinguishable by their color-blocked appearance with a gray back, white belly, and red head. While they can be found on most islands, sightings are less common on the Big Island. Red-Crested Cardinals frequently visit beach parks.
3. House Sparrow
Scientific name: Passer domesticus
Often considered pests, House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) lack protection under the migratory bird act in the continental U.S. As invasive species, they display aggression towards other birds and may take over or destroy native bird nests. With brown coloration, black and brown streaking on their wings, and a buffy chest, these sparrows, especially males with a black mask and throat, are prevalent in urban areas across all Hawaiian islands.
4. Zebra Dove
Scientific name: Geopelia striata
Introduced to Hawaii in 1922, Zebra Doves (Geopelia striata) from southeast Asia have successfully colonized every island. Comfortable around people, they often frequent outdoor restaurants and parks in search of food scraps. Sporting a grayish-brown coloration with heavy barring on the breast and back, these doves feature bare pale blue skin around their ringed eye, making them a common sight on all Hawaiian islands.
5. Northern Cardinal
Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
Among the most recognizable backyard birds in North America, Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) boast bright red feathers and a black mask in males, while females exhibit duller colors with pale brown and reddish hues. Introduced to Hawaii in 1929, they have become common across all islands and are particularly fond of sunflower seed feeders.
6. Red-Billed Leiothrix
Scientific name: Leiothrix lutea
Native to Asia, the Red-Billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea) is recognized by its distinctive red bill, yellow throat, and orange and yellow streaked wings. Introduced to Hawaii in 1918, these colorful birds thrive in forested areas on the Big Island, Oahu, Moloka’i, and Maui. Known by various names worldwide, including Chinese hill robin and Pekin nightingale, they make their presence known with noisy chattering, often sounding like a scolding when humans pass by. While they predominantly inhabit forest understories, sightings are rarer on Lanai, and a smaller population exists on Kauai.
Scientific name: Estrilda astrild
The endearing Common Waxbill, a finch native to southern Africa, charms with its petite stature. Sporting a pale gray body adorned with thin bars, a red beak, and a red eye mask, it features a pale breast with a rosy belly. First spotted in Hawaii in the late 1970s, these charming birds have been sighted on most islands, excluding Molokai and Lanai. Watch for them gathering in flocks, feeding on seeds in open grassy or weedy fields, and making appearances in urban areas.
8. Gray Francolin
Scientific name: Ortygornis pondicerianus
Resembling partridges, pheasants, and quails, the Gray Francolin is a ground-dwelling bird measuring about a foot in length, native to India. Cloaked in grayish-brown with prominent stripes and darker feathers on their wings, they favor dry regions of Hawaii. Often spotted strolling on hotel lawns and along roadsides during the morning and evening, Gray Francolins are fairly common on all the islands.
9. Red-Whiskered Bulbul
Scientific name: Pycnonotus jocosus
With a striking appearance, the Red-Whiskered Bulbul boasts a black head and crest, red cheek, white throat with a black “necklace,” gray body, white belly, and a red undertail patch. Originally from India, they are believed to have reached Hawaii in the 1960s, possibly escaping captivity or through illegal releases. Considered “Hawaii Injurious Wildlife,” they are known to aggressively chase and compete with other birds, spread invasive plant seeds, and pose as agricultural pests. Currently, they are predominantly found in large numbers on Oahu.
10. Chestnut Munia
Scientific name: Lonchura atricapilla
A diminutive member of the finch family hailing from southeastern Asia, the Chestnut Munia showcases males in a rich chestnut brown with a black head and a pale blue bill. Females exhibit a similar bill, but their body is a pale brown with a slightly darker brown head. Thriving on grains and seeds, they prefer grasslands and, in Hawaii, are most populous on Maui, Oahu, and Kauai.
11. Scaly-Breasted Munia
Scientific name: Unspecified (Scaly-breasted Munia)
Another munia found on the Hawaiian islands is the Scaly-Breasted Munia, also known as the “Nutmeg Mannikin.” Native to India and Southeast Asia, these birds vary slightly in coloration but generally display brown on their head and back, darker coloring on their face, a black beak, and a pale chest and belly with a “scaled” feather pattern. Feeding on grains and grass seeds, they prefer slightly drier areas and are commonly found on all the Hawaiian islands.
Scientific name: Zosterops japonicus
Also known as the Japanese white-eye or the mountain white-eye, the Warbling White-Eye is an olive-yellow bird with a buffy belly, distinguished by a prominent white eye-ring. Native to Asia, this bird, introduced to O’ahu in 1929, quickly became one of Hawaii’s most populous land birds. Often found in trees, particularly in flocks, their diet comprises fruit, insects, and nectar. Today, the Warbling White-Eye thrives on all the Hawaiian islands.
13. Common Myna
Scientific name: Acridotheres tristis
The Common Myna, a medium-sized bird, boasts a brown body, black head, yellow beak, and a distinctive yellow eye patch. Recognizable by a white stripe on each wing, visible when extended, mynas are known for their diverse vocalizations and have been historically popular as cage birds for their singing and speaking abilities. With a varied diet including insects, seeds, fruit, grains, reptiles, and human trash, they are considered dangerously invasive worldwide, rapidly populating new areas and outcompeting native species. Unfortunately, this holds true in Hawaii, where they are abundant on all islands.
14. Java Sparrow
Scientific name: Padda oryzivora
Distinctive with a thick pink bill, the Java Sparrow belongs to the finch family. Featuring a gray body and chest, brownish-pink belly, pink legs, black head with a white cheek patch, and red-rimmed eye, they are social birds foraging and roosting in flocks. Primarily seed and grain consumers, they pose an agricultural threat in some countries, particularly to rice crops, due to their efficient beak. Native to Bali and Indonesia, Java Sparrows were introduced to Hawaii and can now be found on all Hawaiian Islands.
15. House Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
A common sight across most of the United States, the House Finch, originally native to western North America, was introduced to Hawaii in the mid-1800s. Males display mostly streaked brown and white feathers with red on the head and chest, while females lack any red coloring. Thriving across all the main islands, they have a preference for the leeward (dry side) of the island and readily visit backyard seed
16. Rose-Ringed Parakeet
Scientific name: Psittacula krameri
The Rose-Ringed Parakeet, a medium-sized member of the parrot family native to Africa and India, has historically been a popular pet and successfully colonized various areas worldwide after escaping captivity. Preferring a diet of seeds, nuts, fruits, and berries, they often visit backyard gardens and bird feeders. Sporting light green plumage with darker green wing tips, a long tail, and a sharply downward-curved rosy-pink beak, their green coloration aids in blending with lush tree foliage. While occasionally sighted on other islands, their main populations are observed on Oahu and Kauai, where their penchant for consuming human-grown food crops poses challenges for small farms, particularly on Kauai.
17. Spotted Dove
Scientific name: Spilopelia chinensis
A long-time resident of Hawaii, the Spotted Dove was introduced from Asia in the 1800s. Also known as the mountain dove, pearl-necked dove, and lace-necked dove, they display tawny brown plumage with a slightly gray-tinted head and pink legs. A distinctive feature is a dark patch extending around both sides of their neck covered in white spots. Thriving in open fields, parks, and human-populated areas, they are common across all islands, especially along the coast.
18. White-Rumped Shama
Scientific name: Copsychus malabaricus
Native to India and Southeast Asia, the White-Rumped Shama was introduced to Kauai in early 1931 from Malaysia and to Oahu in 1940. Preferring valley forests or the ridges of the Ko’olaus range, males display black plumage with a chestnut belly and a white patch above the tail. Females, paler in coloration, appear brown. Known for their beautiful song, they were once popular as captive pets. While primarily found on Kauai and Oahu, sightings have occurred on Molokai, Lanai, and northern Maui.
19. Red-Vented Bulbul
Scientific name: Pycnonotus cafer
Native to the Indian subcontinent, the Red-Vented Bulbul has a varied diet encompassing fruits, flower petals, nectar, insects, and occasional small lizards. Displaying a light brown body, black head with a small crest, and a bright red patch just underneath the tail, they are considered an invasive pest in Hawaii. Their penchant for consuming flowers causes significant damage to orchids and other agriculture. Predominantly present in large numbers on Oahu, the government seeks reports of sightings across all islands, aiming to prevent their further spread.
Bird Watching in Hawaii
For bird enthusiasts in Hawaii, the opportunities to indulge in the hobby extend beyond your backyard. The Hawaii Audubon Society provides a platform for meetups, workshops, field trips, and organized birding tours.
Whether you’re a resident or a visitor eager to expand your life list with new bird species, consider exploring the following popular birding locations in Hawaii:
Hawaii Birding Locations
Explore detailed insights into each of these locations by visiting birdwatchersdigest.org.
How to Attract Birds to Your Yard
If you’re keen on bringing the vibrant avian life to your yard, consider these five simple tips:
- Put Out Bird Feeders: The most effective and straightforward method is to introduce bird feeders to your yard. Start with options like a tube feeder, hopper feeder, platform feeder, or a window feeder. Below are some recommendations for each.
- Add a Water Source: Enhance your yard with a water feature, be it a pedestal birdbath or a simple terra cotta flower pot saucer. Birds require water not only for bathing but also for drinking. Consider a solar fountain to further entice birds with the allure of moving water.
- Offer Birdhouses: Various bird species readily occupy birdhouses when placed strategically and at the right time of the year. Species like Eastern Bluebirds are particularly attracted to birdhouses. Select an appropriate spot, and you may find a mating pair investigating the birdhouse shortly after installation.
- Provide Shelter: Ensure your yard features trees, bushes, and shrubs where birds can quickly navigate when sensing danger. These natural elements serve as their primary defense against predators. In areas lacking mature trees, incorporate landscaping features that offer a sense of safety for the birds.
- Add Native Plants: To attract birds that rely on nuts, berries, and seeds, include native plants that produce these resources. Avoid invasive and non-native plant species, as they can pose risks to native birds unfamiliar with these plants.
By implementing these tips, you can create an inviting environment that encourages a diverse array of birds to visit and thrive in your yard.
10 Different Types of Bird Feeders
Explore these 10 common bird feeders that people often set up in their yards:
- Hopper Feeder: Hopper feeders feature a compartment, known as the hopper, at the center to hold birdseed. Shaped like a house and covered on top, they provide perches for birds to land and eat. Ideal seeds for hopper feeders include black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed.
- Platform Feeder: Also called tray feeders, platform feeders are open on top and can be hung from a tree, hook, or pole-mounted. Suitable for most bird types, they are easy to set up, though open design allows access to various animals. Black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed work well.
- Tube Feeder: Clear plastic tube-shaped bird feeders, tube feeders keep seed fresh and dry while making refilling easy. They come in various sizes and attract many bird species. Black sunflower seeds and mixed seeds are suitable for tube feeders.
- Suet Feeder: Designed for suet cakes, suet feeders consist of a metal wire cage, sometimes with a tail-prop for larger birds. Particularly popular in winter, they attract woodpeckers. Consider a suet feeder with a long tail prop for larger woodpeckers like the Pileated and Northern Flicker.
- Window Feeder: Small bird feeders that attach to glass windows using suction cups, window feeders are open on top, and seed is poured into the tray area for refilling. Popular with various birds, they suit those with limited yard space. Use black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed.
- Thistle Feeder: Specifically designed for thistle seed, thistle feeders attract finches, including the American Goldfinch and House Finch. Usually tube-shaped with tiny holes along the sides, these feeders allow birds to extract thistle.
- Ground Feeder: Ground feeders, similar to tray feeders, sit at ground level and are popular with birds like Mourning Doves and Juncos, as well as ground animals like squirrels and raccoons. Use black sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed.
- Oriole Feeder: Oriole feeders are specialty feeders designed for orioles. Often orange, they feature plastic or glass dishes for holding jelly, a favorite of orioles. Some also allow attachment of orange halves. Ideal for attracting orioles to your yard.
- Hummingbird Feeder: Nectar feeders, or hummingbird feeders, are crafted specifically for hummingbirds to extract sugar water. While designed for hummingbirds, other birds like Downy Woodpeckers may also be attracted. An easy and inexpensive option to attract these fascinating birds.
- Peanut Feeder: Similar to thistle feeders, peanut feeders are tube-shaped with metal wire mesh, allowing for whole unshelled or shelled peanuts to pass through. Attract birds like Blue Jays with peanuts. Consider a squirrel-proof option if needed.
Selecting the right feeder depends on your preferences and the types of birds you wish to attract to your yard.