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Birding in Volcanoes National Park

If you’re a birdwatcher planning a visit to Hawai’i Island, we’ve got some news that will make your day! The Hawaiian Islands boast a renowned assembly of birds. 

Published: June 16, 2021

And many rare and stunning birds call Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and the surrounding village of Volcano home. In fact, the park is home to over 120 species of birds, many of which are listed as an endangered or threatened species.

Anyone staying in Volcano, Hawai’i won’t have to travel far to discover a variety of endemic birds that are considered threatened or endangered. Only a couple miles from the Kilauea Lodge is Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, where you can see our state bird, the only hawk endemic to Hawai’i, and more with binoculars, a telescope, or even the naked eye.

Read on to learn about some of the most fascinating native birds you can possibly see and hear while visiting Volcano, Hawaii:

‘Apapane

Adored for its remarkable array of songs and calls that vary from island to island, the ‘apapane is the most prevalent species of Hawaiian honeycreeper. Characterized by its scarlet plumage, the ‘apapane has a black tail and wings, white abdomen, and long, decurved bill. Many ancient Hawaiian nobles wore the ‘apapane’s feathers in their capes, lei, and helmets.

The ‘apapane’s flights will often cover an extensive range, all for the sake of finding food. The bird frequents the canopies of ʻōhia trees, drinking nectar from blooms of the tree’s endemic flowers (and pollinating them in the process)!

Spot the ‘apapane: This bird can primarily be found in higher elevation forests, including those along the Mauna Loa strip road and Crater Rim Drive. When the ‘ō‘hi‘a flowers are in bloom, that’s your best chance of encountering an ‘apapane.

[Photo Credit: www.nps.gov/im/pacn/havo-native-birds.htm]

‘Amakihi

The small, nonmigratory ‘amakihi is a Hawaiian honeycreeper known for its slightly turned down bill and bright plumage. The female ‘amakihi is a yellowish-green color, while the male is bright yellow.

One of Hawaii’s most common native forest birds, this omnivorous honeycreeper hops across small branches and leaves, foraging for food.

Spot the ‘amakihi: Occasionally, you can find the ‘amakihi at lower elevations in non-native forest. More often, the ‘amakihi hangs out in higher elevation native forests, as it is partial to perching in ō‘hi‘a trees, where it can feast on arthropods, insects, and some nectar and fruit.

[Photo Credit: www.usgs.gov/media/images/amakihi-honeycreeper]

Hawaiian Hawk

The ‘io is the only hawk species endemic to Hawai’i and only breeds on the Big Island, making the sight of one very extraordinary. This predatory bird isn’t hard to identify, with a body that is bulky relative to its overall wingspan and length. Generally, an adult ‘io is between 15 and 20 inches tall.

The ‘io is now protected as an endangered species in the U.S. This protection, along with its resiliency, have helped to boost a once dwindling ‘io population at last. The Hawaiian hawk typically feeds on native species, but it has been known to make mongoose, chicks, lizards, and frogs its dinner.

Spot the ‘io: You can often view the ‘io circling along Mauna Loa Road, above Kīlauea’s summit, and occasionally around local farms!

 

[Photo Credit: www.nps.gov/havo/learn/nature/io.htm]

‘I’iwi 

At one time, the ‘i’iwi (scarlet honeycreeper) was one of the most common birds in Hawai’i. In ancient Hawai’i, the ali’i would wear red feather capes crafted of ‘i‘iwi feathers as a symbol of their status.

Like a creature from a fairytale, the ‘i’iwi is dashing with its black wings, scarlet plumage, and matching beak. The ‘i‘iwi has a unique song, as well as reputation for setting off on long flights through the forest, searching for ō‘hi‘a lehua – red flowers that bear a striking resemblance in hue to the ‘i’iwi itself!

Today, this noble bird is struggling to survive in the face of climate change, which is diminishing the ‘i’iwi habitat and leading to wide-spread avian malaria. Non-native predators and ROD, a disease ravishing the ō‘hi‘a, are threatening this honeycreeper’s source of food and shelter.

Fortunately, there’s hope for the exotic ‘i’iwi! After listing the ‘i’iwi as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is working with scientists and other stakeholders to implement a recovery plan for the birds.

[Photo Credit: www.audubon.org/news/the-iiwi-besieged-hawaiian-forest-bird-now-listed-threatened]

Spot the ‘i’iwi: The ‘i‘iwi doesn’t venture far from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Look for the bird in the forests of the park that are at 4,500 feet or higher.

Koa’e Kea

The koa’e kea (white-tailed tropicbird) is an aptly named seabird with an orange bill, black eyed-mask, and trademark long, white tail feathers. At an average of 16-inches, the feathers can actually be as long as the koa’e kea’s body.

The koa’e kea enjoys a diet of snails, as well as fish and crabs that it can easily catch on its flights out to sea. The seabird is an impressive flyer and has waterproof plumage, enabling it to rest on the surface of the ocean and spend an extensive amount of time “fishing” at sea.

Spot the koa’e kea: The white-tailed tropicbird can be seen nesting on out-of-reach cliffs, inaccessible crater walls, or on remote grounds – safe out of the reach of predators. It can also be spotted flying above the Kīlauea and Halema’uma’u craters.

Nēnē

We’ve saved the best for last! The nēnē is the rarest goose on the planet and the official Hawai’i state bird. Native to the islands of Hawai’i, our Hawaiian goose gets its name from its soft call.

In 1778, when Captain Cook arrived on Hawai’i Island, it is estimated that around 25,000 nēnē were in existence. By the 1940’s, nēnē populations shrunk to a startling 50 geese.

The reason? Loss of their lowland habitats is to blame, as is the threat of cats, dogs, cattle, pigs, and other introduced predators.

Here’s the good news: Since the 1970’s, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park has been conducting a program for the nēnē’s captive breeding and reintroduction. Today, the park’s staff utilizes several techniques to ensure that the nēnē population grows.

Mongoose, feral cats, and automobiles still prevent the nēnē population from making a complete comeback. But we can help the nēnē survive and thrive by taking one simple precaution – Don’t feed the nēnē! We know, it’s tempting to treat them, but the closer they get to humans (and vehicles) the more danger they face.

Spot the nēnē: Gaze on our beloved nēnē from a safe distance in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. You’ll see they are perfectly happy (and healthy) eating the bright red ohelo berry, which grows on lava in the park!

[Photo Credit: www.nps.gov/havo/learn/nature/nene.htm]

There are so many beautiful, colorful birds to see in and around the 500-square-miles of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. You might even encounter some ‘amakihi and ‘apapane while strolling through the topical gardens of the Kilauea Lodge!

Volcano, HI is certainly a destination all birdwatchers should add to their bucket list! Ready to plan your visit? Visit our Booking page for more information about staying at the Kilauea Lodge. Our serene rainforest retreat, award-winning restaurant, and charming accommodations are just two miles from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and world’s away from ordinary.

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