Hawaii is home to an incredible variety of birds. Kauai has some of the most diverse bird populations in the state, and there are even a few endemic birds on the island. Kaua’i is also great for birdwatching because it’s one of the few places in Hawaii where you can see both seabirds and terrestrial birds.
From the red crested cardinal to the Kaua’i hawk, there’s something for everyone on this lush island paradise. But it’s not just big birds that can be seen – Kauai’s diverse bird population is also impressive. Below we’ll look at some of these feathered friends that offer a wealth of insight into Kauai’s ecology.
List of Common Kauai Birds
1. Red-Crested Cardinal
The red-crested cardinals are beautiful red-headed Hawaiian birds that are available in huge numbers within their range. How can you identify this bird?
These birds are usually gray on their upperparts, redhead and white below. They are about 7.5 inches in length. Note the beautiful crest that gives them their name. Their bill is short while the legs are a dark gray. Juveniles have a brownish head.
Are red-crested cardinals native birds? No, they were introduced to this tropical island in the 1900s. It is part of the tanager family and mainly feeds on seeds, berries, and insects.
Red crested cardinals are very social birds and can often be seen in pairs or small groups. They are songbirds and their songs are beautiful and melodic. They prefer marshes and rivers.
2. Zebra Dove
Another group of birds of Kauai are the Zebra doves. This introduced species was first released into the island in the 1920’s.
Long and slender, this Kauai bird is about 7.8 inches in length and boasts of a 10-inch wingspan. The female and male of these bird species have similar features.
They are grayish-brown above with dark barring. Below, the bird is pinkish with dark bars. Note the bluish skin on its face.
Immature birds are duller with pink feet.
This bird is very common in open areas near human habitation, where it feeds on seeds, fruit, and insects. Zebra doves are monogamous, and both parents care for the young. These birds are considered to be agricultural pests in some areas because they can damage crops.
Breeding season starts from September up to June. Males have a mating dance to attract their preferred mate. After picking their preferred mate, they’ll then build a nest together where the female lays 1-2 eggs that take up to 3 weeks to hatch.
3. Northern Cardinal
Northern cardinals are also an introduced bird species in Kauai. They are very conspicuous because of their unique plumage.
The northern cardinal bird of the genus Cardinalis and the family Cardinalidae. This Kauai bird is a medium-sized songbird with a length of about 7.9 in.
It has a distinctive red body and black face mask. The male is bright red, while the female is mostly brown with some red on the wings. Both sexes have red bills.
The northern cardinal is an adaptable bird, surviving in a wide range of habitats including forests, swamps, and urban areas. Can you attract them to your yard? Yes, these cardinal species of Kauai do visit backyards with sunflower seeds.
Their songs are whistles that last for 2-3 seconds while the calls are a series of metallic notes.
4. Red Footed Booby
Is there a red-footed booby? Most people know the blue footed booby, the red-footed booby is a close relative. These birds are from the family sulidae.
Red footed boobies are a seabird. They are a large bird, with a wingspan of up to 59 inches and a body length of 27-31.2 inches. Immature birds are brownish overall with pink feet. Within a few months, juveniles will morph into one of two distinctive plumage.
Adults can be white with black wings, tail and red feet or a dark brown body with tan head and red feet. Both morphs have a blue face. This Kauai bird has a thick bill.
Red footed boobies get their name from their bright red feet. They are known for their aerial acrobatics, and can often be seen diving into the water to catch fish. Red footed boobies build their nests on the ground or in trees, and lay one or two eggs per brood.
5. Hawaiian Goose (Nene)
The Hawaiian goose, also known as the nene, is the official state bird of Hawaii. It is an endemic species, found in all the main islands.
This unique bird is one of the living species in the genus Branta and is endemic to Kauai. The nene is a large bird, measuring 25-30 inches in length and weighing 4-6 pounds. Male nene birds are larger than females.
It has a long neck, small head, and relatively short wings. The nene’s plumage is mostly gray-brown with black barring on the wings and tail. The breast and belly are white, and a black head. The nene’s bill is black. Its legs are grayish-black. Note the diagonal markings on its neck.
This native bird of Kauai is a herbivorous bird that feeds on berries, grasses, flowers, and leaves. It can be found in open grasslands, shrublands, lava flows, and agricultural areas. Breeding starts from August through April with incubation lasting for up to a month.
6. Pacific Golden Plover
One of the most interesting birds on Kauai is the Pacific golden-plover. This little is very intriguing because of its migration habits.
They usually migrate in late April or early May and leave in late September or early October. They can be found on the beaches, in the fields, and even in the dunes.
The Pacific golden plover is one of the most beautiful shorebirds in the world. These birds are about 9 inches long and have a wingspan of about 24 inches. They have black underparts and faces. Upperparts are a mix of black, white and gold.
Females have a brown and white face which makes it easy to distinguish between the sexes.
In Kauai, this bird’s breed can be spotted foraging for earthworms. They also eat cutworms, grasshoppers, leeches and spiders.
During nesting season, they lay up to 4 splotched eggs and the babies leave the nest after about 4 weeks. Their calls are a series of “chu-it” and “chu-wee” notes.
7. Rose-ringed Parakeet
Are rose-ringed parakeets federally endangered species? According to the IUCN, these backyard birds are not endangered.
The rose-ringed parakeet is also referred to as the ring necked parakeet. It is a small, brightly colored parrot that was introduced to Kauai in the 1960’s. These birds are about 16 inches long and have green plumage with a red beak and a rose-colored neck ring.
They are highly social animals and live in flocks of 10-30 birds. Rose ringed parakeets are omnivorous and eat a variety of fruits, seeds and insects. They are easy to tame.
In Kauai this bird has been termed as an invasive species. Their numbers are stable in the wild and unfortunately these birds are known to invade orchards, causing destruction of crop.
Related Read: Learn about grey birds with black heads
8. Hawaiian Petrel (Ua’u)
The Hawaiian Petrel or the Pterodroma sandwichensis is a seabird endemic to the Hawaiian Islands including Kauai. How many Hawaiian petrels are left? The population is about 20,000 birds; 5,000 of this are breeding pairs.
If you are into bird watching, here is what to look out for to identify this bird easily. It is a medium-sized petrel, with a wingspan of about 39 inches. This long-winged bird is mostly dark brown-gray above and white underparts.
The species feeds mainly on squid and fish, but will also take crabs, shrimp, and other invertebrates. The Hawaiian Petrel nests in burrows on the slopes of volcanoes in Hawaii. They are an endangered species and the Hawaiian government has put measures in place to preserve this Hawaiian island bird.
9. Hawaiian Coot ( ʻALAE KEʻOKEʻO)
The Hawaiian coot, Fulica alai, is a medium-sized water bird that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. They are also known as alae kea.
They are closely related to the American coot and can be easily distinguished by their black head and neck with a white patch on the front of their head. The rest of the body is black. Note their stunning red eyes. This bird is about 13-16 inches in length.
These birds are common in marshes, ponds, and other wet habitats throughout Hawaii’s main islands. They are omnivorous and feed on a variety of items, including aquatic plants, small fish, insects, and crustaceans.
Hawaiian coots are monogamous birds and typically mate for life. The female builds a simple nest out of grasses and other plant materials near water and lays 3-8 eggs. Young coots can often be seen following their parents around while they forage for food. They are listed as a vulnerable species.
10. Scaly-Breasted Munia (Ricebirds)
Scaly-breasted munia is a small, sparrow-like bird found in parts of Hawaii. This bird of Kauai has distinctive features that’ll help any avid bird watcher identify them.
The species has brown upperparts, with a dark brown face and a white underside, with dark scaly markings.
Males and females are similar in appearance, but males are slightly larger. Juveniles have an overall brown body. They have short triangular black bills.
The scaly breasted munia feeds on seeds and insects, and builds a cup-shaped nest from grasses. It is a gregarious bird, often found in large groups.
They breed during summer, laying white eggs that are incubated by both parents. The species is considered to be common, and is not currently threatened with extinction.
11. House Sparrows
House sparrows are one of the most common birds on all the islands of Hawaii. They can be found in a variety of habitats, from urban areas to forests.
This forest bird of Kauai is brownish with black markings on their back and wings. The head is brown with a black face. Underneath the birds are pale. Males have black throat while females are duller without the dark throat.
Notice the males bill is short and black while the females’ bill has a yellow base.
They feed on a variety of things, including insects, seeds, and fruit. House sparrows build nests out of whatever materials they can find, often using man-made structures like eaves or gutters.
These birds are social animals and often form large flocks. They are also known for their singing abilities, which vary depending on the individual bird.
12. Short-Eared Owl
Why is it called a short-eared owl? When you look at the short-eared owls you’ll notice facial disks that look like ears, giving them their name.
The short eared owl is a medium-sized owl with characteristic short disks that look like ears. This owl is found in open country in parts of Kauai. This bird on Kauai island is black-brown with heavy streaks.
Its head is round while the eyes have a beautiful yellow color. They are about 13 to 16.9 inches in length with a span of up to 40.5 inches.
The short eared owl is active during the day and hunts by flying low over the ground or perched on a low perch, scanning for prey. Its diet consists mainly of small mammals such as mice, voles, and rabbits.
13. Barred Dove
Barred doves are small and common birds of Kauai.
Closely related to the Zebra Doves above, these birds in Kauai are brown-gray above with dark barrings. The heads are gray with an orange ring around their eyes. Sexes are the same color with a long tail and gray legs.
These birds are usually shy and secretive, but can be quite tame around humans. They eat a variety of foods. They prefer woodland edges and farm lands.
14. Scarlet Honeycreeper (I’iwi”)
Kauai is home to several Hawaiian honeycreeper species. In this article we’ll look at the I’iwi or the Scarlet Honeycreeper.
The I’iwi is a federally endangered species that is easy to identify. It is a bright red bird with a curved (sickle-like) bill. Its wings are black with a small white patch.
They can be found in a variety of habitats, from rainforests to high elevations. The scarlet honeycreepers are very popular with birdwatchers. They are known for their whistles and other sounds.
Other Hawaiian birds in the honeycreeper family include palila, akikiki, nihoa finch, and akohekohe. Hawaiian honeycreepers are classified as endangered species, and conservation efforts are underway to protect these birds.
15. Red-Whiskered Bulbul
Native to India, the red-whiskered bulbul was first brought to Hawaii as a pet in the early 1900s. It is thought that around the 1960s some people released their pets to the wild illegally and the numbers have grown since then.
The red whiskered bulbul or the Pycnonotus jocosus is a passerine bird found in forests of Kauai and other Hawaiian islands. It is a member of the bulbul family, Pycnonotidae.
The red whiskered bulbul is easily identified by its black head and white cheeks, black back and legs. The underparts are white with a red rump and undertail. Note the red patch close to its eyes. This bird in Kauai is around 7 inches long.
Red whiskered bulbuls are social birds which often form small flocks. They are omnivorous, feeding on insects and fruit buds. In Kauai, they are considered an invasive species, often invading gardens and orchards. The call of the red whiskered bulbul is a loud “kink-a-joo”.
16. Spotted dove
Spotted doves or the Streptopelia chinensis are small, plump birds and members of the dove family.
It’s a common garden bird across Kauai. It is mainly brownish overall, but has a distinctive rose-colored chest. Notice the black, white-spotted nape and gorgeous red feet.
Also, you can identify this bird by its dark brown wings that spot white edges and long tail.
The spotted dove is common throughout much of the major islands. It is a timid bird which typically avoids contact with humans, but can be seen in parks and gardens where there are trees for it to roost in.
The spotted dove feeds mainly on seeds, but will also take insects and fruit. It typically forages on the ground, but can also be found in trees. The breeding season varies depending on the location, but generally occurs from September through January. The spotted dove builds a simple nest out of sticks and lays two or three eggs.
17. Hawaiian Gallinule (`alae `ula)
`Alae `ula, mudhen, Hawaiian common moorhen, or the Hawaiian gallinule, I believe this bird has more names than any other birds of Kauai. Its scientific name is Gallinula galeata sandvicensis and it is a bird of the family Rallidae.
It is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, where it is found in marshes and wet meadows. The Hawaiian gallinule is a medium sized bird, measuring 12 inches in length and weighing 0.77 lbs.
It has long yellow legs with some reddish spots, a long neck, and yellow-tipped red bill. The plumage is mainly brown-black with white markings on the wings and tail. The eyes are dark.
The call of the Hawaiian gallinule is similar to the Hawaiian’s coot but louder. The diet of the Hawaiian gallinule consists mainly of insects, but it will also eat plant material and small fish. It forages by walking through wetlands looking for food on or near the surface.
Final Thoughts on Birds of Kauai
Where can I go bird watching in Kauai? There are various spots you can watch introduced birds as well as native species.
Kīlauea National Wildlife Refuge
This area is known for hosting nene and shore birds. They are open;Tuesday to Saturday.
Kōkeʻe State Park
Has numerous trails that any avid birdwatcher will enjoy. In this park you can spot the Hawaiian owl, Kauaʻi akepa, apapane and more.
Wailua River Valley
From the Hawaiian coot to koloa, there are plenty of avian species to see on this navigable river.
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