Native Hawaiian birds are few -- and dwindling. But Hawaii still offers extraordinary birding for anyone nimble enough to traverse the tough, mucky landscape. And the best birding is on the Big Island; birders the world over come here hoping to see three Hawaiian birds, in particular: the akiapolaau, a woodpecker wannabe with a war club-like head; the nukupuu, an elusive little yellow bird with a curved beak, one of the crown jewels of Hawaiian birding; and the alala, a critically endangered Hawaiian crow that's now almost impossible to see in the wild.
If you don't know an apapane from a nukupuu, go with someone who does. Contact Hawaii Forest & Trail, 74-5035-B Queen Kaahumanu Hwy. (behind the Chevron station), Kailua-Kona (www.hawaii-forest.com; 800/464-1993 or 808/331-8505), to schedule a group or private, custom tour, led by naturalists You'll venture into the pristine rainforest to see rare and endangered Hawaiian birds. The guide will also point out Hawaii's unique botany and evolution. Full-day (12-hr.) tours start at $197 and include a mid-morning snack with coffee, lunch, beverages, daypack, binoculars, walking stick, and rain gear.
If you want to head out on your own, good spots to see native Hawaiian and other birds include the following:
Kipuka Puaulu (Bird Park) Trail
This easy 1.2-mile round-trip hike lets you see native Hawaiian flora and fauna in a little oasis of living nature in a field of lava, known as a k[ī]puka. For some reason, the once red-hot lava skirted this mini-forest and let it survive. Go early in the morning or in the evening (or, even better, just after a rain) to see native birds like the [‘]apapane (a small, bright-red bird with black wings and tail) and the [‘]i[‘]iwi (larger and orange-vermilion colored, with a curved salmon-hued bill). Native trees along the trail include giant ohia, koa, soapberry, kolea, and mamane.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The best places for accomplished birders to go on their own are the ohia forests of this national park, usually at sunrise or sunset, when the little forest birds seem to be most active. The Hawaiian nene goose can be spotted at the park's Kipuka Nene Campground, a favorite nesting habitat. Geese and pheasants sometimes appear on the Volcano Golf Course in the afternoon.
Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
The first national wildlife refuge established solely for forest bird management is on the eastern slope of Mauna Kea above the Hamakua Coast. It's open for birding on Saturday, Sunday, and state holidays, using the public access road only. You must call ahead of time to get the gate combinations of the locked gates and to register. Every visitor to Upper Maulua is required to have a reservation. Reservations can be made by calling the Hakalau Forest NWR office (tel. 808/443-2300) between 8am and 4pm Monday through Friday at least 1 week before entry. Visitors will be asked to provide (1) their telephone number; (2) the number of people in their group; (3) the license plate numbers(s) of vehicle(s) to be used; and (4) a description of vehicle(s) to be used. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is required for the 50-mile trip, which takes almost 2 hours each way from Hilo or Kona. More information is available at www.fws.gov/hakalauforest.
Ducks, coots, herons (night and great blue), cattle egrets, and even Canada and snow geese fly into these popular coastal wetlands in Hilo, near the airport. Take Kalanianaole Highway about 3 miles east, past the industrial port facilities to Loko Waka Pond and Waiakea Pond.
Please brake for Nene
Nene, the endangered native Hawaiian goose and state bird, are making a comeback in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and other high-altitude areas in the islands, where they feast on the cranberry-like ohelo berries that grow at upper elevations. Unfortunately, these uplands are often misty, and the birds’ feathers blend easily with the pavement, making it hard for inattentive drivers to see them. Drive carefully, and to discourage nene from approaching cars, don’t feed them.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.