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Seabirds of Hawaii

Seabirds spend most of their life feeding and living on the open ocean, coming to land only to breed or nest. Hawaii has productive, food-rich waters that make it a major foraging area for thousands of seabirds such as albatross, terns, boobies, shearwaters, petrels, tropicbirds, and other offshore species. Nearby islands and small atolls also create important nesting habitat for the many migratory and resident bird species.

An estimated 15 million seabirds of 22 species are either flying over Hawaiian waters or breeding on Hawaiian islands at any one time. Still, these birds can be hard to spot because their true home is the open ocean.

Seabirds are made for life on the ocean, gliding on the wind, drinking sea water and eating fish and squid. Some birds remain at sea for years at a time, spending most of their time on the wing. The majority mate for life and return to the same area each year to raise their young. Males and females of most species look similar. Both share parenting duties.

Of Hawaii's 22 species, two are found only in Hawaii. These seabirds -- the dark-rumped petrel and the Newell's shearwater -- breed only in the main islands and are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Most of Hawaii's other seabirds breed in the predator-free islands of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands chain.

Cutlurally Speaking

Excerpted from Conservation Hawaii's ""E Mälama Nä Manu Kai O Hawai‘i Nei":

Hawaiians watch the flights of seabirds to locate schools of fish, to help forecast the weather, and to locate islands when out at sea. Birds such as the manu o Kü are sometimes referred to as a navigator’s best friend because they occur in higher densities closer to islands and will lead a weary navigator home. Early Polynesians probably watched the flight patterns of migrating seabirds before setting sail to distant islands.

Hawaiian mythology includes stories of tropicbirds and ‘iwa being used as messengers for their gods. Feathers of tropicbirds and frigates also adorn Hawaiian kähili (feather standards) and ‘ahu ‘ula (feather capes), and lei.

Hawaiians once relied on seabirds as a food source. Seabird eggs were eaten and the birds were prized for their oily flesh, which tasted of squid. To catch the young petrel and shearwater
chicks in their burrows, Hawaiians used smoke to disorient and disable flocks of adults flying to and from the nesting colonies.

Although seabird numbers on the main Hawaiian islands are far lower than they once were and they have lost most of their nesting grounds, there are signs of hope. Small populations of ‘ua‘u recently have been found on Läna‘i and Hawai‘i, and mölï have been successfully nesting on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu for the last 25 years - at sites where mammals are excluded and controlled. All seabirds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.


Ka`ena Point In Hawaiian, kaʻena means 'the heat'. The area was named after a brother or cousin of Pele who accompanied her from Kahiki. The State of Hawaiʻi has designated the point as a Natural Area Reserve to protect and encourage the nesting of the Laysan Albatross and the fragile (to vehicular traffic), native strand vegetation still abundant there. Kaʻena Point is a spear-shaped protrusion into the Pacific Ocean. Some ancient Hawaiian folklore states that Kaʻena Point is the "jumping-off" point for souls leaving this world.

Laysan Albatross walking at Kaena Point

Manana Island is a 63 acre volcanic tuff cone island. It is about 2300 feet long and 4200 feet wide. rises to about 360 feet at its highest point. There is a small beach on the southwest side of the island that is approximately thirty feet wide.

Today the island is a protected bird sanctuary and during the spring and summer the island is a breeding area for thousands of sooty terns, brown noddies., wedge-tailed shearwaters, bulwers petrels, adn red-tailed tropic birds. Manana Island is a protected bird sanctuary and therefore it is not legal to land there unless you have permission from the Hawaii Department of Land Natural Resources.

Na Mokulua are almost always pictured in articles extolling the beauty of nearby Lanikai Beach and Kailua Beach, winners of many "Best Beaches" awards. They offer a fantastic day trip for viewing nature and experiencing some of the laid back Hawaii lifestyle.

Mokulua Nui - has two humps. with steep cliffs on the north, east, and southeast sides and a sandy beach on the west side. If the waves are calm and the tide is not too high, you can walk around the back of the island to a wonderful sea pool and cliff diving. Check the tide.

Popoia, also known as Flat Island, is 4 acres in size and reaches a maximum elevation of 10 feet. True to its common name, the limestone islet is like a tabletop, although the surface is pitted with sink holes often used by nesting seabirds. It lies about 350 yards offshore from Kailua Beach Park in Kailua Bay on the windward coast of Oahu. The north, west, and south sides of Popoia are surrounded by a jagged reef. Visitors frequently land at the sandy cove on the southwest side. wedge-tailed shearwaters, bluwers petrels.

The following list highlights some of the most common bird species, especially seabirds, found in Hawaii’s offshore islets. There are, however, several species not included on this list. Each species is classified as either endemic, indigenous, or introduced.

Bishop Museum Offshore Islet Project
There are at least 54 islets that lie offshore of the main Hawaiian Islands. These islets are uninhabited and mostly located within 10 km of the coast. They act as preserves for species and ecosystems that have been lost or are disappearing from the main islands. Although Hawaii has only 0.2% of the land areas of the U.S.,  75% of the species historically documented to have gone extinct in the U.S., and 33% of the nation’s endangered species are endemic to Hawaii.

Pelagic Seabirds of Hawaii, Photos and Identification at Cascadia Research

The Birds of the Hawaiian Islands: Occurrence, History, Distribution, and Status from the Hawaii Biological Survey

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