The Birds of the Hawaiian Islands:
Occurrence, History, Distribution, and Status

Robert L. Pyle and Peter Pyle


The avifauna of the Hawaiian Islands has long interested ornithologists and systematicists alike, and there have been several compilations or checklists of all known birds in Hawaii, beginning with four treatments within a five-year period at the turn of the twentieth century (Wilson and Evans 1899, Rothschild 1900, Henshaw 1902, Perkins 1903). Subsequent to these compilations and following a long period of little published record-keeping, Robert L. Pyle developed and maintained a checklist of Hawaiian Birds from 1977 to 2002 (Pyle 1977-2002). This website represents a continuation of this work, providing an official checklist of accepted records of birds for the Hawaiian Islands. It also includes checklists for each Northwestern and Southeastern Hawaiian Island group, as well as a list of hypothetical species and a list of non-native species that have been observed in the wild in Hawaii but have not established viable breeding populations. This checklist includes all species recorded in the Hawaiian Islands through 2016.

Species taxonomy and nomenclature follows that of the American Ornithologist's Union Checklist (AOU 1998) as updated by supplements through 2016 (AOU 1999-2016) and species order follows that of the AOU (2015), subsequent to which the sequence of families began to undergo an usettled period of significant revision. See also below regarding the use of okinas in common names. Species placed on the Primary Checklist for the Hawaiian Islands include indigenous breeding species, migratory species occurring regularly or as vagrants, and non-native species that have established viable and stable or increasing populations for at least 15 years. Occurrence of pelagic species are accepted if they were observed within 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) of mean high tide-lines of Hawaiian islands, in accordance with the definition of the Exclusive Economic Zone, and as used as a standard for bird checklists in North America (see AOU 1998, CBRC 2007, and eBird 2016). Pre-contact species known only in the fossil or subfossil record are not included, although all genera of these species are listed in detailed species accounts under most-closely related species or genera.

Decisions on the acceptability of species for the Primary Checklist were initially performed by the authors with similar rigor to that performed by the California Bird Records Committee (see CBRC 2007), on which the junior author has served for over 17 years (Pyle and Pyle 2009). These generally conservative standards resulted in some long-accepted species being placed on the Hypothetical List due to documentation that does not unequivocally establish the identification of the species. In 2014 the Hawaii Bird Records Committee (HBRC) formed and evaluated all decisions by Pyle and Pyle (2009), reconsidering some of them, and also considered the acceptance of records during 2010-2016 of all new species for the Hawaiian Islands. All decisions by the HBRC are followed here. All but five migratory species on the Primary Checklist have been documented by either specimen or photograph clearly eliminating all other species, and the five species documented by sight-record only contain at least two records by observers that are familiar with the species and have provided written details which adequately rule out all other species. These five species were all accepted by the HBRC, whereas two other species accepted based on sight records by Pyle and Pyle (2009) were not accepted by the HBRC and are placed on the Hypothetical List here.

Acceptance to island or island group, as presented in the Northwestern and Southeastern Hawaiian Island Checklists, was performed somewhat more lax standards than those used for acceptance to the Primary Checklist for the Hawaiian Islands overall; however, many records documenting island occurrence contain little or no documentation and were regarded as unsubstantiated.

Detailed Species Accounts

Detailed species accounts have been compiled for each species and can be accessed by clicking "pdf" in the Primary Checklist or Hypothetical List.

English names follow those of the AOU (1998-2016) except that the Hawaiian okina (') is used for Hawaiian-language names. Other names are indicated, including those recognized by the AOU prior to taxonomic or nomenclatural revisions (along with an indication of the year in which the change was made), English names for indigenous Hawaiian subspecies, and Native Hawaiian names for species.

Subspecies assessments are indicated at the top of each detailed account for species in the Primary Checklist, and more information can be found in the bodies of the accounts. Many species are listed as "monotypic" indicating that no subspecies are recognized. For remaining (polytypic) species all subspecies documented or recognized as occurring in the Hawaiian Islands are listed, assessments for migratory and non-native species being based on examination of specimens and photographs with regard to likelihood of occurrence. In some instances subspecific designations could not be assigned with certainty; these are listed with "subspecies?" or with a probable subspecies designation followed by a question mark.

Most native resident species were given multiple scientific names in the early literature, and some names continue to be revised as relationships become more understood. We have provided Synonymies for these species to help cross-reference scientific names at various times in the literature to the species as currently recognized.

Each species is categorized by status of occurrence in the Hawaiian Islands. Primary categories along with sub-categories include:

native residents include species that arrived or evolved in the Hawaiian Islands naturally without human assistance, typically before the time of Captain Cook’s visit in 1778. Birds of this category do not normally leave the islands. Sub-categories of native residents include

  • endemic: endemic (native) species, not extinct
  • endemic subspecies: endemic subspecies of an indigenous species
  • extinct: endemic species or subspecies deemed extinct
  • indigenous: indigenous but not endemic species
  • endangered or threatened: taxa on the Federal Endangered Species List; "(state)" indicates taxa listed by the State of Hawaii but not on the federal list.

non-native residents include species brought to the Hawaiian Islands under human restraint after 1778 (except for one species brought by Polynesians), that were released or escaped to the wild and have become established as self-sustained breeding populations for at least 15 years. Birds of this category do not normally leave the Hawaiian Islands. Sub-categories of non-native residents include

  • long established: established as a self-sustaining population before the 1940s
  • recently established: established as a self-sustaining population after the 1940s
  • extirpated: formerly established but non-native populations gone

Many introductions of non-native birds to Hawaii have been purposeful, for reasons or perceived reasons of insect or mammal control (primarily 1800s to 1940s by the Hawaiia Board of Agriculture and Forestry; HBAF), recreational hunting (primarily 1930-1970s by the Hawaii Depratement of Fish and Game; HDFG and Department of Land and Natural Resources; DLNR), and aesthetic reasons (primarily 1930s-1940s), whereas other introductions have arisen from escaped cagebirds (throughout 1900s). See Foster (2009) for a review of bird introductions to Hawaii. Many non-native birds were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by Honolulu Mejiro Club and the Hui Manu Society, groups of primarily well-to-do members of Honolulu society during the late 1920s to early 1960s that wanted to introduce colorful and/or melodious songbirds to the islands for aesthetic purposes. By the 1920s most or all native landbirds had become extirpated from lowland regions, leaving "silent gardens" or those filled only with "unappealing" species such as doves, mynas, House Finches, and House Sparrows. Tens of thousands of songbirds were imported from all over the world, with peak importation occurring in 1929-1936. An adjunct of these introductions was the "Buy-a-Bird Campaign", during which school children raised money to import birds from O'ahu to Hawai'i I (Locey 1937, Berger 1975a, Foster 2009). During the later 1940s to early 1960s DLNR began to put restrictions on the introduction of songbirds and the Hui Manu shifted focus to conservation-oriented projects, the last sponsored introduction being of Mariana Swiftlets in 1962. Established introductions since the early 1960s (and a few before this, dating back to around 1900) resulted from escaped cage birds, originating primarily from Honolulu. See Locey (1938), Moulton and Pimm (1983), and Pyle (1995) for more on the introduction of birds to Hawaii and on the Hui Manu Society. All documented introductions that we are aware or are listed in the Non-Established List.

breeding visitors include species that naturally occur and breed in the Hawaiian Islands, but individuals depart breeding colonies or sites to inhabit the open ocean when not breeding. Sub-categories of breeding visitors include

  • endemic: a species that breeds only in the Hawaiian Islands
  • endemic subspecies: a subspecies that breeds only in the Hawaiian Islands
  • indigenous: an indigenous species and/or subspecies that also breeds elsewhere

non-breeding visitors include species that breed in North America, Asia, or elsewhere and migrate to the Hawaiian Islands when not breeding. Sub-categories of non-breeding visitors include

  • winter visitor: occurs in the Hawaiian Islands primarily as a successful winter resident although some individuals may be migrants (see migrant)
  • migrant: occurs in the Hawaiian Islands primarily as a passage migrant although some individuals may over-winter (see winter visitor)
  • vagrant: occurs in the Hawaiian Islands as an accidental straggler
  • common: widespread migrant to Hawaiian Islands in good numbers
  • regular: migrant to the Hawaiiand Islands in small numbers in most or all years
  • occasional: migrant to the Hawaiian Islands in small numbers in some years

Information in the accounts is widely cited by reference to publications in the scientific or popular literature, or to specimens housed in one of many Museums in North America, Europe, or elsewhere (see Abbreviations page for museum acronyms). The journals 'Elepaio (abbreviated in accounts with E) and American Birds and its successors (AB, AFN, FN, and NAB; see below and Abbreviations page) form a source for many cited references. The SIGHTINGS Database and Archive were created by the senior author and are archived and maintained by the Occurrence and Status of Birds in Hawaii volunteer project at Bishop Museum, Honolulu. The Database and Archive of original written reports are the source of all uncited observations in the species accounts, and also contain most of those cited elsewhere. Bird observations submitted spontaneously or solicited for the quarterly Hawaiian Islands Region reports, beginning 1977 in American Birds, and continuing through Audubon Field Notes, Field Notes and North American Birds, form the bulk of the 100,000+ records in the SIGHTINGS database; the remainder comes from significant material drawn from earlier literature and museum specimen records. Descriptive notes supporting records are included in the Archive.

Hawaii Waterbird Surveys

Hawaii Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DoFAW) Waterbird Surveys have been conducted sporadically since 1955 and biannually since 1986 and form the source for many waterbird records. These include standardized counts of all wetland areas on six of the eight Southeastern Hawaiian Islands; no counts have been performed on Kaho'olawe and only sporadic aerial-based counts have been conducted on Ni'ihau since 1986. Data collected during counts in 1986-2009 are stored in the Hawaii Waterbird Database maintained by DoFAW and the Hawaii Biodiversity Mapping Program (HBMP) and we thank DOFAW and HBMP for providing us with the database (see also Acknowledgments).

Save Our Shearwaters (SOS)

The Save Our Shearwaters (SOS) Program was originally conceived of and developed on Kaua'i by DOFAW in 1979 and is now operated by the Kaua'i Humane Society with funding from a variety of local conservation and mitigation sources. The program creates places where Kaua'i citizens can bring in Newell's Shearwaters, primarily fledglings in late summer and fall, that have been confused by street and hotel lights and found on roadways, for rehabilitation in release. The SOS program has developed into a full-fledged rehabilitation center for all birds, and has been instrumental in the saving and releasing of 1000's of shewarwaters and other species of concern such as Hawaiian Petrels and Band-rumped Strom-Petrels. Several rare and unusual seabird species have also been documented by the SOS program. Sea Life Park operates a similar rehabilitation program on O'ahu since the 1970s and has also documented many rare seabirds on that island. We thank the operators and workers of these two programs for sharing their databases on birds turned into their facilities.

At-sea surveys

Two extensive at-sea-survey programs for birds and marine mammals form the basis for most at-sea records included in the accounts. Cascadia Research Collective (CRC) undertook small boat surveys in Hawaiian waters each year during 2003-2016 (Baird et al. 2013). Each year surveys were typically undertaken off from one to three different islands with from about 40 to 100 days of effort per year. While CRC research efforts focus on a number of species of toothed whales and dolphins, from 2006 through 2016 they have photographed seabirds (e.g., petrels, gulls, terns, phalaropes, jaegers, skuas) and documented numbers of all seabird species seen. The Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (HICEAS), is a cetacean and ecosystem assessment survey of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Hawaiian Archipelago conducted by the Southwest and Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Centers (SWFSC) of NOAA Fisheries. Extensive surveys of all Hawaiian waters were conducted from 1-2 survey vessels during 6 Aug-1 Dec 2002 (163 survey days) and 13 Aug-1 Dec 2010 (168 survey days), with a third survey scheduled for 2017. A comprehensive seabird survey using strip transect methods was conducted aboard during all daylight hours, weather permitting. Data and photographs from both the CRC and HICEAS programs have generously been made available by CRC and SWFSC personnel (see also Acknowledgments).

Minimum Numbers of Individuals

For regular and occasional non-breeding visitor species, minimum numbers of known individuals that have reached the Hawaiian Islands have been calculated. These calculations start with an examination of the data to see if over-wintering individuals of a species appear to return regularly to locations between breeding seasons (e.g., they migrate back to continental breeding areas and return to Hawaiian wintering grounds annually). If it is one of these species (which typically include ducks and shorebirds), then records on a per-island basis are assumed to be returning individuals provided that age or individual markings are consistent with the same individual's being involved. If it is not one of these types of species (typically including gulls and terns), then each record between seasons counts toward the minimum as a separate individual. On each particular island, minimum counts further take into account as much information as possible based on all observational data.

Christmas Count Data

More-recent trends in the occurrence of many bird species in Hawaii have been inferred by data collected during Christmas Bird Counts, an International program sponsored by the National Audubon Society during which counts are performed annually in standardized areas throughout the Americas. Graphs using data collected through 2014 have been prepared based on five Christmas Counts that have extended consistently for at least 20 consecutive years, at Kapa'a (1971-2014) and Lihue (1972-1992) on Kaua'i, Waipi'o (1977-2014) and Honolulu (1944-2014) on O'ahu, and Volcano (1972-2014; also 1954-1955, 1967) on Hawai'i Island. Species were selected based on observations of at least 70 individuals during at least 19 years of the count, and graphs were prepared for species with trends or cyclic patterns. Regressions were performed on number of birds observed per party hour against year, and significant trends (based on P < 0.05) are reported for species that were recorded throughout the time frame of the count. See the Christmas Count List for more details and links to graphs. Counts have also been performed at Hilo, Hawai'i I (1937-1940, 1962); Waimea, Kaua'i (1968, 1971, 1973-1977, 1982, 1985-1995, 1997-2007), Pawa'inui, Kaua'i (1973); Honolulu to Ma'alea (Maui) and Kona (Hawai'i I) on a hydroplane passenger boat (1975-1977); Pu'u O Kali, Maui (1978-1979), Pu'u O Kaka'e, Maui (1987-1992, 1996-2004, 2007); North Kona, Hawai'i I (1988-1990, 1997-2001, 2006-2007); Kualapu'u, Moloka'i (1989-1990, 1997-2014);and I'ao Valley, Maui (1999-2004, 2007). We thank Geoff LeBarron for help obtaining Christmas Count data.

Hawaii Forest Bird Survey (HFBS)

Substantial information on the status and abundance of resident forest birds in the Hawaiian Islands was obtained during the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service' Hawaii Forest Bird Survey (HFBS) in 1977-1981 (Scott et al. 1986). Transects were established and surveyed 2 km apart throughout forested highlands of Hawai'i Island (in 1977-1979), Moloka'i (1979-1980), Maui (1980), Lana'i (1980), and Kaua'i (1981). Bird densities by elevation and habitat type (as based on detailed vegetational surveys performed along the transects) were calculated and population estimates for survey areas of each of these five islands were obtained (Scott et al. 1986). Several large parcels of land were secured as conservation areas or refuges based on the data collected during the HBFS, and ensuing management actions to protect endangered native Hawaiian forest birds have relied on information from this survey. Our accounts of forest birds have incorporated much HBFS information as well.

Photographic Documentation

All photographs submitted as part of record documentation have been archived in the Hawaii Rare Bird Documentary Photograph (HRBP) File, maintained by the Occurrence and Status of Birds in Hawaii volunteer project at Bishop Museum, Honolulu. This file was established in 1977 (see ‘Elepaio 37:101) to solicit and archive photographs of vagrant and uncommon migrant bird species as documentation for their occurrence in the Hawaiian Islands. The HRBP file includes few images of resident birds but is set up to include photographs or images of interest for all species. Images receive HRBP numbers in ascending serial order: HRBP 0001 through numbers in the 1400's indicates those acquired on film, and HRBP 5000 and up were acquired electronically. The HRBP number remains permanently with its image and with any copies made from it including scans or printings to another medium. HRBP images are cited in species accounts as "(HRBP number)", with "HRBP" forming a link to the photo page of the species. All HRBP photographs and images can also be accessed by clicking "photos" in the Primary Checklist or Hypothetical List. Clicking on the thumbnail image will produce an enlarged image. The HRBP pages include information on the species, date, location and photographer for each image.


Literature Cited

Version 1 completed Dec 2009 and will not be updated for content until Version 2 is posted (typos and bad links may be fixed). Plans are to complete Version 2 sometime in 2011-2013, with further updated versions to be completed every 2-4 years thereafter. Comments, errors, typos, bad links, updated information, any other suggestions: Please contact Peter Pyle at

Citation: Pyle, R.L., and P. Pyle. 2009. The Birds of the Hawaiian Islands: Occurrence, History, Distribution, and Status. B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI, U.S.A. Version 1 (31 December 2009)

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