Hawaii is home to a wide variety of birds from all over the world. Although Hawaii is an American state, most of the birds here cannot be found anywhere else in North America. In this article we’ll take a look at backyard birds in Hawaii, with information and photos about 19 bird species.
At the end of this article, I’ll mention a few birdwatching hotspots and birding organizations in Hawaii.
How many different species of wild birds are in Hawaii?
It’s difficult to get an exact count of how many species are found in any one place. However, according to Wikipedia, there are 337 species on the current official state list. Interestingly, only 64 of them are considered native to Hawaii while 130 ended up there accidentally, and 52 of them were introduced by humans. Today, many of the native Hawiian species are only found in remote forests and mountainous areas while the species commonly seen around developed areas are introduced or accidental.
19 backyard birds in Hawaii
Many things can influence which bird species you may be able to see in your own backyard. Some of these things include if you are on the “wet or dry” side of the island, how close you are to the coast or forests, and what kind of plants and trees you may have growing in your neighborhood.
I used the data found at project feederwatch to choose the most commonly reported backyard species. This project, put on by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, collects data from backyard birdwatchers every year on which birds they see in their yard. So while this list certainly isn’t going to cover every bird that may possibly visit the homes of Hawaii, it’s a solid list of 19 species that people who live in Hawaii commonly report to see in their backyards.
1. Warbling White-Eye
Scientific name: Zosterops japonicus
A bird of many names, the warbling white-eye is also known as the Japanese white-eye and the mountain white-eye. They are olive-yellow in color with a buffy belly, but perhaps the most obvious identifying feature is their prominent white eye-ring. These birds spend most of their time in the trees, often in flocks. Their diet consists of fruit, insects and nectar. This white-eye is native to Asia, and was introduced to O’ahu in 1929. The population quickly boomed and is considered one of the most populous land birds in Hawaii. Today they can be found throughout all the Hawaiian islands.
2. Common Myna
Scientific name: Acridotheres tristis
The common myna is a medium sized bird with a brown body, black head, yellow beak and yellow eye patch. They also have a white stripe on each wing only visible when extended. Mynas make a variety of sounds and have historically been popular cage birds for their “singing and speaking” ability. They are foragers that eat a little of everything including insects, seeds, fruit, grains, reptiles and even human trash. Around the world they are considered dangerously invasive, quickly populating any new area they are introduced to and outcompeting native species. Unfortunately this is also the case in Hawaii where they are numerous on all the islands.
3. Java Sparrow
Scientific name: Padda oryzivora
This member of the finch family is very distinctive looking with its thick pink bill. They have a gray body and chest, brownish-pink belly, pink legs, and a black head with white cheek patch and red rimmed eye. Java sparrows are social birds that forage and roost together in flocks. They feed mainly on seeds and grains, which they crack with the ease of their thick beak. In fact, they are considered an agricultural threat in some countries due to their consumption of rice crops. Java sparrows are native to Bali and Indonesia and were introduced to Hawaii. Today they can be found on all of the Hawaiian Islands.
4. House Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
The House Finch is a common bird across most of the United States. They were originally native to western North America but quickly spread, and were introduced to Hawaii in the mid 1800s. Males are mostly streaked brown and white with red on the head and chest, while females lack any red. They can be found across all the main island but tend to prefer the leeward (dry side) of the island. They will readily come to backyard seed feeders.
5. Northern Mockingbird
Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
Mockingbirds get their name from their ability to mimic the songs of other species of birds. It’s estimated that a male mockingbird can learn up to 200 different songs in its lifetime. These medium sized song birds are mostly gray with large white patches on their wings and outer tail, which can be hard to see unless they are flying. They are often seen living in tall bushes and can often be quite aggressive of intruding birds. The northern mockingbird was introduced to Hawaii in 1928 to help control pest insects (which they eat). They prefer the drier regions of the islands, especially where the Kiawe tree is found.
6. Red-crested Cardinal
Scientific name: Paroaria coronata
Despite their name and having a similar red crest to the northern cardinal, the red-crested cardinal is actually a member of the tanager family. These birds are native to South America in places like Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay. Red-crested cardinals are hard to mistake with their “colorblock” gray back, white belly and red head. They can be found on most of the islands, although sightings are less common on the Big Island. Red-crested cardinals are frequent visitors to beach parks.
7. House Sparrow
Scientific name: Passer domesticus
Generally look at as pests, houses sparrows are the only other species of wild birds in the continental U.S. besides starlings that do not fall under the protection of the migratory bird act. Aside from being an invasive species that has spread to nearly every continent, they are overall aggressive towards other birds and can will take over or destroy native birds nests. House sparrows are mostly brown in color, with some black and brown streaking on their wings and buffy chest. Males have a black mask and throat. They are extremely comfortable in urban areas and are the most commonly seen bird in towns and around people. They can be found on all the islands. These sparrows can become problematic at outdoor dining establishments.
8. Zebra Dove
Scientific name: Geopelia striata
The zebra dove, native to southeast Asia, was introduced to Hawaii in 1922 and quickly colonized every island. They are very at home around people and are often found hanging around outdoor restaurants and parks looking for dropped food scraps. These doves are a grayish-brown all over with heavy barring on the breast and back, and have bare pale blue skin around their ringed eye. Found on all Hawaiian islands.
9. Northern Cardinal
Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
Northern Cardinals are among the most recognizable and common backyard birds in North America. Males have bright red feathers and a black mask, females have duller colors and are more pale brown with some reddish coloring. Both males and females are easily recognized by their “mohawks” and reddish orange beaks. First introduced in 1929, they are now common across all the Hawaiian islands. They love sunflower seed feeders.
10. Red-billed Leiothrix
Scientific name: Leiothrix lutea
The colorful little red-billed leiothrix is native to Asia. Around the world it may go by many names including Chinese hill robin, Pekin robin, Pekin nightingale, Japanese nightingale and Japanese hill robin. Look for their distinctive red bill, yellow throat, and orange and yellow streaked wings. At the right angle you can also see some blue on their wing tips and at the end of their tail. They can chatter quite noisily and people often say it sounds like they are scolding humans that walk by.
The red-billed leiothrix spends time in the forest understory and likes to eat fruit, moths, bees and mollusks. They were introduced to Hawaii in 1918 and can mainly be found on the Big Island, Oahu, Moloka’i and Maui in forested areas. There is a smaller population on Kauai and sightings are rare on Lani.
11. Rose-ringed Parakeet
Scientific name: Psittacula krameri
The rose-ringed parakeet is a medium sized member of the parrot family, native to Africa and India. They have historically been a popular pet and have colonized several areas around the world where they have escaped captivity. Their preferred diet is seeds, nuts, fruits and berries and they are known to visit backyard gardens and bird feeders. They are light green all over with darker green wing tips, a long tail, and rosy-pink beak that curves sharply downward.
Their green coloration helps them blend in with lush tree foliage. While there are occasional sightings on other islands, their main populations seem to be on Oahu and Kauai. Unfortunately they eat a lot of human grown food crops and cause losses for small farms, especially on Kauai.
12. Spotted Dove
Scientific name: Spilopelia chinensis
The spotted dove has been at home in Hawaii for a long time, having been introduced from Asia in the 1800s. Other names they are known by include mountain dove, pearl-necked dove and lace-necked dove. They are a tawny brown all over with a slightly gray tinted head and pink legs. The one feature they have that stands out is a dark patch that extends around both sides of their neck covered in white spots. Like many doves they like open fields and parks and can often be found around human activity. They are common across all the islands, especially along the coast.
13. White-rumped Shama
Scientific name: Copsychus malabaricus
White-rumped shama’s are native to India and southeast Asia. It is believed they were introduced to Kauai in early 1931 from Malaysia and to Oahu in 1940. On the islands they like to live in valley forests or on the ridges of the Ko’olaus range. Males are black with a chestnut belly and white patch above the tail. Females have similar coloration but are much paler in color and appear brown. These shama’s are known for their beautiful song, and were often kept as captive pets because of their singing ability. While they are still mainly found on Kauai and Oahu, they have also been sighted on Molokai, Lanai and northern Maui.
14. Red-vented Bulbul
Scientific name: Pycnonotus cafer
The red-vented bulbul is native to the Indian subcontinent. They eat fruits, flower petals, nectar, insects and sometimes small lizards. Red-vented bulbuls have a light brown body and black head with a small crest. They get their name from the bright red patch found just underneath the tail, which is often hidden.
Unfortunately, they are considered an invasive pest in Hawaii and their love of eating flowers causes series damage to orchids and other agriculture. They are only present in large numbers on Oahu and the government is asking people across all islands to report sightings and is trying to prevent their spread.
15. Common Waxbill
Scientific name: Estrilda astrild
The cute little common waxbill is a finch native to southern Africa. They have a pale gray body covered in thin bars, a red beak and red eye mask, and a pale breast with rosy belly. They were first reported in Hawaii in the late 1970’s, with sightings on most island except for Molokai and Lanai. Look for them feeding on seeds in open grassy or weedy fields. They often appear in flocks in urban areas.
16. Gray Francolin
Scientific name: Ortygornis pondicerianus
The gray francolin is a ground-dwelling bird similar to partridges, pheasants and quails. They are about a foot long and native to India. Gray francolins are grayish-brown overall and heavily striped, with darker brown feathers on their wings. They prefer dry areas of Hawaii and can often be found walking around on hotel lawns and along roadsides in the morning and evening. Gray francolins are fairly common on all the islands.
17. Red-whiskered bulbul
Scientific name: Pycnonotus jocosus
The red-whiskered bulbul is a striking looking bird with their black head and crest, red cheek, white throat with black “necklace”, gray body, white belly and red undertail patch. They are native to India and are believed to have made it to Hawaii in the 1960’s by escaping captivity or being illegally released. Unfortunately they are considered a “Hawaii Injurious Wildlife” like the other bulbul on this list. They aggressively chase and compete with other birds, spread the seeds of invasive plants and are agricultural pests. They currently only reside in large numbers on Oahu.
18. Chestnut Munia
Scientific name: Lonchura atricapilla
The chestnut munia is a small member of the finch family native to southeastern Asia. Males are a rich chestnut brown with a black head and pale blue bill. Females have the same bill, but their body is a pale brown with a slightly darker brown head. These munias mainly eat grains and seeds, so they prefer to inhabit grasslands. In Hawaii they prefer wetter areas than the other munia found on the islands, the scaly breasted munia. Chestnut munias are most populous on Maui, Oahu and Kauai.
19. Scaly-breasted Munia
Another munia you can find on the Hawaiian island is the scaly-breasted munia, another India and southeast Asia native. Another common name for this bird is “nutmeg mannikin”. The coloring can vary a little on these birds, but overall they are brown on their head and back, have some darker coloring on their face, a black beak, and pale chest and belly with a “scaled” feather pattern. They feed on grains and grass seed like the chestnut munia, but are found in slightly drier areas. The scaly-breasted munia is common on all of the Hawaiian islands.
Bird watching in Hawaii
Hawaii has plenty of options if you want to take the hobby outside of your own backyard. The Hawaii Audubon Society has meetups, workshops, field trips, and birding tours.
If you are a Hawaii resident (or visitor) and would like to add some new species to your life list, then take a look at this list I’ve compiled some popular birding locations in Hawaii.
Hawaii birding locations
Learn more about what each of these locations has to offer from birdwatchersdigest.org
- James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge – Oahu
- Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge – Maui
- Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park – Big Island
- Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary – Maui
- Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge – Kauai
Find even more hotspots with Audubon Hawaii Important Bird Areas.