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20 White Birds in Hawaii

white birds in hawaii
Red-billed Tropicbird in Honolulu, Hawaii: Photo by Sharif Uddin

Introduction

Aloha from the Hawaiian Islands! A tropical paradise known for its lush landscapes, pristine beaches, and a mosaic of cultural influences. But for bird enthusiasts, Hawaii is a goldmine of unique avian species, many of which display striking white plumage. These white birds, either native or migratory, add a touch of purity and elegance to Hawaii’s vibrant biodiversity. Let’s take a closer look at some of these feathered wonders.

White Birds in Hawaii

Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)

  • Features: Primarily white with black wingtips, snow geese are medium to large-sized waterfowl. They have a pink bill and legs, and during migration, their loud, resonant honking is hard to miss.
  • Locations: Rare in Hawaii, occasionally spotted in wetlands.
  • Fun Fact: They’re known for their impressive migratory patterns, sometimes flying in V-shaped formations covering thousands of miles.

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

  • Features: These small waders have a pale body and are almost entirely white during winter. They’re often seen rushing to and fro along the shoreline, chasing the waves.
  • Locations: Sandy beaches and coastal areas.
  • Fun Fact: They undergo a tremendous migration, traveling from Arctic breeding grounds to southern wintering sites, sometimes even reaching Hawaii.

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

  • Features: This small plover is characterized by its white underbelly, brownish-gray upperparts, and a distinctive black face mask and neck band. Their semi-webbed feet give them their name.
  • Locations: Shorelines, mudflats, and coastal wetlands.
  • Fun Fact: Their name “semipalmated” refers to the partial webbing between their toes.

Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

  • Features: One of the smaller gulls, they have a white underbelly, light gray back, and a black bill. In their breeding plumage, they sport a black hood, which turns into a simple ear spot in non-breeding seasons.
  • Locations: Coastal areas, sometimes inland waters.
  • Fun Fact: Unlike many gulls, they prefer to nest in trees.

Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)

  • Features: Noted for its distinctive call that sounds like laughter, this gull has a white underbelly, gray wings, and a black head during the breeding season.
  • Locations: Coastal regions and lagoons.
  • Fun Fact: They get their name from their loud laughing sound, which is unmistakable during mating displays.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

  • Features: Identified by the black ring near the tip of its yellow bill, this medium-sized gull has a white head, neck, and underparts. The wings are pale gray with black tips, showcasing distinctive white “mirrors.”
  • Locations: Coastal areas, beaches, and sometimes inland waters.
  • Fun Fact: These gulls have a fascinating foraging behavior and can often be seen hovering over fast-food parking lots, looking for a quick snack.

White Tern (Gygis alba)

  • Features: Also known as the fairy tern, this bird boasts pristine white plumage, a black eye ring, and a sharp, blue bill. They gracefully soar and hover over the ocean.
  • Locations: Coastal regions, especially around the main Hawaiian islands.
  • Fun Fact: The White Tern doesn’t build a nest. Instead, it lays its egg on bare, narrow branches in trees.

Least Tern (Sternula antillarum)

  • Features: The smallest of the terns, they have a sharp, yellow bill, a black cap, and a white forehead. Their wings are gray, and their underparts are white.
  • Locations: Beaches, sandbars, and coastal lagoons.
  • Fun Fact: They have an agile and rapid flight, often hovering briefly before plunging headfirst into water to catch fish.

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

  • Features: Sporting a sharp red bill and a black cap on their head, these medium-sized terns have a light gray back, white underparts, and dark wingtips. Their long, forked tails give them a graceful appearance.
  • Locations: Coastal areas, lagoons, and sometimes inland waters of Hawaii during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Common Terns are known for their long migratory routes, sometimes traveling from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back in a year.

White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus)

  • Features: Distinguished by its elegant long white tail streamers, this bird has a predominantly white body with black markings on its wings and a yellowish bill.
  • Locations: Coastal cliffs and offshore islands where they nest.
  • Fun Fact: These birds are known to perform elaborate aerial courtship displays, a dance in the sky to woo their partners.

Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)

  • Features: With a striking red bill, this tropicbird has a white body, black patches on its wings, and a black eye line. Their tail streamers are shorter compared to the white-tailed tropicbird.
  • Locations: Coastal cliffs and offshore islands, often seen soaring gracefully over the ocean.
  • Fun Fact: They primarily feed on fish, and it’s a spectacle to watch them plunge-dive into the water, emerging with their catch.

Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda)

  • Features: Sporting a long, red tail streamer, this bird is predominantly white with black streaks on its upper wings and back. Their bill is a shade of orange-red. They have a high-pitched, kee-kee-krrrt call that is often heard before the bird is seen.
  • Locations: Found predominantly in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, often nesting on remote cliffs and islets.
  • Fun Fact: Red-tailed tropicbirds are known to fly long distances over the open ocean, often resting on the waves when tired.

Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)

  • Features: These large seabirds have a white head and body with dark, blackish-gray wings. They possess a hooked bill that’s perfect for catching squid, their main diet. Their glide over the ocean with seemingly little effort, thanks to their impressive wingspan.
  • Locations: Predominantly found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, especially on Midway Atoll and Laysan Island.
  • Fun Fact: Laysan albatrosses are known for their intricate dance routines which include bill-clacking and synchronized movements, a critical aspect of their courtship.

Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra)

  • Features: The largest of the booby species, they have a stark white body, contrasting black wings, and a yellowish to pale green bill. True to their name, they sport a dark “mask” around their eyes.
  • Locations: They breed on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, especially on Nihoa and Necker Island.
  • Fun Fact: Masked boobies are spectacular divers, plunging into the ocean from heights to catch fish.

Red-footed Booby (Sula sula)

  • Features: This booby species showcases a predominantly white plumage with black flight feathers. Their namesake red feet and a blue or pinkish bill add a pop of color. They possess piercing eyes which range from yellow to white.
  • Locations: Predominantly found breeding in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, especially on Kauaʻi.
  • Fun Fact: The red-footed booby is the smallest of all booby species but what it lacks in size, it makes up in agility, showcasing impressive aerial maneuvers.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

  • Features: Standing tall with a sleek, white body, this egret sports a long neck and sharp yellow bill. Their black legs extend beyond their tail during flight, and they have a slow wingbeat.
  • Locations: Wetlands, marshes, ponds, and shores across Hawaii’s main islands.
  • Fun Fact: Great egrets were once hunted nearly to extinction for their plumes, but conservation efforts have seen their numbers rebound.

Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

  • Features: Slightly smaller than the great egret, the cattle egret has a hunched appearance with a shorter neck. During breeding season, they develop beautiful orange-buff plumes on their head, chest, and back.
  • Locations: As their name suggests, they can often be seen in fields, grasslands, and pastures, often alongside grazing cattle.
  • Fun Fact: These egrets are not native to Hawaii but have established themselves well. They often feed on insects disturbed by livestock.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

  • Features: With a ghostly appearance, the barn owl showcases a pale face with dark eyes, contrasting with most other owls. Their body is a mix of buff, yellow, and gray while their underside is predominantly white. The barn owl’s screeching call is quite distinctive.
  • Locations: Open habitats like grasslands, marshes, and agricultural fields. They’re also found in urban areas and are known to roost in barns and other buildings.
  • Fun Fact: Unlike most owls, which hoot, the barn owl emits a chilling, raspy screech.

Red-crested Cardinal (Paroaria coronata)

  • Features: This bird stands out with its bright red head and chest against a white belly and gray back. Not a true cardinal, it was introduced to Hawai’i in the 1930s and has since thrived.
  • Locations: Common in urban and suburban areas, especially in parks and gardens on O’ahu and Maui.
  • Fun Fact: Despite being called a cardinal, this bird is more closely related to tanagers.

Yellow-billed Cardinal (Paroaria capitata)

  • Features: This striking bird has a vivid red head and chest, contrasted by a white belly and black upperparts. Its yellow bill gives it its name. It’s an active and vocal bird, often seen in small flocks.
  • Locations: Introduced to the Big Island in the 1970s, they are often found near water in parks, gardens, and forest edges.
  • Fun Fact: Like the red-crested cardinal, the yellow-billed cardinal is actually not a true cardinal but a species of tanager.

Threats, Conservation, and Invasive Species in Hawai’i

Hawaii’s unique position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has made it a haven for diverse species. However, its isolation also makes it susceptible to threats, especially from invasive species. Introduced animals, like the mongoose, rats, and even certain bird species, pose challenges to native populations by predation, competition, and introducing diseases. Invasive plants replace native vegetation, affecting the habitats of many endemic birds.

Conservation initiatives in Hawaii focus on habitat restoration, controlling and eradicating invasive species, and breeding programs for the most endangered native birds. It’s crucial to maintain a balance to ensure that Hawaii remains a sanctuary for its unique and diverse avian life.

Conclusion

The brilliant white species of the Hawaiian Islands, from migrant shorebirds resting mid-journey to unique endemics found nowhere else on earth, showcase the islands’ fragile beauty. Safeguarding critical habitat and shearwater nesting colonies will ensure Hawaii’s white birds continue gracing its shores into the future.