Hawks in Hawaii

Hawks in Hawaii

Hawaii, a tropical paradise renowned for its stunning landscapes and rich biodiversity, is not typically associated with hawks. However, hidden among the lush rainforests and soaring volcanic peaks, two hawks have found a unique home in this remote archipelago. These majestic raptors, with their keen eyesight and aerial prowess, add a touch of wild beauty to the islands’ natural tapestry.

While Hawaii is primarily known for its endemic bird species, including the iconic Hawaiian honeycreepers, only hawk species have established themselves as part of the island’s avian community. These hawks, having adapted to the island’s distinctive ecosystems, showcase intriguing behaviors and characteristics that set them apart from their mainland counterparts.

In this article, we delve into the world of hawks in Hawaii, exploring their fascinating life histories, habitat preferences, and conservation status. Join us as we uncover the secrets of these magnificent birds, learning how they navigate the island’s unique ecological challenges and contribute to the delicate balance of Hawaii’s fragile ecosystems.

Prepare to be captivated by the untold stories of hawks soaring over Hawaii’s scenic vistas, embodying the spirit of resilience and adaptation in this Pacific paradise.

1. Northern Harrier

  • Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
  • Life span: Up to 12 years
  • Size: 18-20 inches (45-50 cm)
  • Weight: 12-26 ounces (350-740 g)
  • Wingspan: 40-48 inches (100-122 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

In the picturesque landscapes of Hawaii, the Northern Harrier gracefully roams the skies, leaving a lasting impression with its distinct appearance. Found across the islands, this captivating raptor captivates with its slender body, long wings, and a characteristic owl-like face.

Sporting a mottled brown plumage, the Northern Harrier effortlessly blends into its surroundings, embodying the essence of stealth and grace. They don’t have a large population on the island and are not a native species, so seeing it is not a certainty.

A Northern Harrier in flight

The Northern Harrier in Hawaii exhibits unique nesting behaviors, constructing its nests on the ground in grassy or marshy areas. These nests, called “scrapes,” are shallow depressions lined with grasses, leaves, and other vegetation. Female harriers are primarily responsible for nest building while males provide food during this period. They are monogamous during the breeding season but may form new pairs in subsequent years.

The diet of the Northern Harrier in Hawaii consists mainly of small mammals such as mice, rats, and shrews. They also feed on birds, reptiles, and insects, adapting their diet based on prey availability.

With their low, soaring flight and keen eyesight, they hunt by using a distinctive behavior known as “owl-like” or “harrier hunting,” where they fly low over fields or marshes, scanning for prey and diving down to capture it.

The Northern Harrier in Hawaii faces various conservation challenges. Habitat loss due to urbanization, agriculture, and invasive plant species negatively impacts their nesting and foraging areas. Additionally, pesticides and rodenticides pose threats to their prey base.

Conservation efforts focus on protecting and restoring suitable habitats, controlling invasive species, and raising awareness about the importance of preserving the unique ecosystems that support the Northern Harrier.

Collaborative initiatives involving landowners, government agencies, and conservation organizations aim to ensure the long-term survival of this iconic raptor in Hawaii’s delicate ecological balance.

2. Hawaiian Hawk (‘Io)

  • Scientific name: Buteo solitarius
  • Life span: Up to 18 years
  • Size: 46-51 cm (18-20 inches)
  • Weight: 450-600 g (0.99-1.32 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 106-122 cm (42-48 inches)
  • Status: Endangered

In the enchanting realm of Hawaii, a special raptor graces the skies – the Hawaiian Hawk, known as the ‘Io in Hawaiian. Endemic to the islands, this remarkable bird holds a significant place in Hawaiian culture and ecology. With a geographical range limited to the archipelago, the Hawaiian Hawk boasts an exquisite appearance.

Its plumage showcases a striking blend of dark brown and light gray feathers, accentuated by piercing eyes and a sharp, curved beak. Notably, the Hawaiian Hawk holds the esteemed status of being a sacred bird in Hawaiian mythology, revered as a spiritual guardian. This captivating raptor serves as a testament to Hawaii’s unique avifauna and rich cultural heritage, leaving observers mesmerized by its beauty and cultural significance.

A Hawaiian Hawk sitting on a branch

The Hawaiian Hawk, or ‘Io, is known for its unique nesting behavior. It constructs nests in tall trees, often selecting native ‘ōhi’a or koa trees as their preferred sites. The nests are made of sticks and branches, lined with leaves and moss. The female ‘Io is primarily responsible for nest construction.

They typically lay one to three eggs, and both parents participate in the incubation and rearing of the young. The nesting period can last several months, as the Hawaiian Hawk invests significant effort in ensuring the survival of their offspring.

The diet of the Hawaiian Hawk consists of a wide range of prey items. They primarily feed on small mammals such as rats, mice, and shrews. Additionally, they consume birds, insects, and reptiles.

This flexibility in their diet allows them to adapt to the available food sources within their habitat. The Hawaiian Hawk employs a mix of soaring and perch-hunting techniques to capture its prey, utilizing its sharp talons and keen eyesight.

The Hawaiian Hawk has faced various threats throughout history, including habitat loss, hunting, and predation by introduced species. In the past, they were considered a symbol of royal status, and killing them was forbidden. Conservation efforts have focused on habitat preservation, predator control, and raising public awareness about the ‘Io’s ecological importance and cultural significance.

The species is currently listed as endangered, and ongoing conservation measures aim to protect its remaining populations, including habitat restoration and captive breeding programs. Collaborative initiatives involving government agencies, conservation organizations, and local communities are crucial in ensuring the long-term survival of the Hawaiian Hawk in its native Hawaiian habitats.

Where to find Hawks in Hawaii

Hawaii, known for its breathtaking landscapes and diverse ecosystems, provides unique opportunities to observe hawks in their natural habitat. Exploring the following four areas can enhance your chances of encountering these majestic birds of prey in Hawaii.

  • Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park: Home to the awe-inspiring Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes, this park offers a remarkable setting for hawk sightings. Explore the park’s trails, such as the Kīlauea Iki Trail or Crater Rim Trail, where you may spot hawks soaring above the expansive lava fields and lush rainforests.
  • Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge: Situated on the slopes of Mauna Kea, this refuge is a haven for native bird species, including hawks. Take part in guided hikes or birdwatching tours to explore the diverse forest habitat and catch glimpses of the elusive ‘Io, the endemic Hawaiian Hawk.
  • Waimea Valley: Located on Oahu’s North Shore, Waimea Valley offers a blend of cultural history and natural beauty. The lush botanical gardens and forested areas provide an ideal environment for hawks. Stroll along the trails, such as the Waihi Falls Trail, and keep your eyes peeled for hawks perched on branches or soaring above the valley.
  • Pu’u O’o Trail in Haleakalā National Park: On the island of Maui, this trail traverses the stunning volcanic landscape of Haleakalā. As you hike through the park’s unique ecosystem, scan the skies and distant cliffs for hawks in flight or perched on rocky outcrops.

To increase your chances of spotting hawks, it is recommended to visit these areas during the early morning or late afternoon when hawks are more active. Bring binoculars or a spotting scope to observe the birds from a distance, respecting their natural behavior and minimizing disturbance. It is also essential to adhere to park regulations and guidelines to protect the fragile ecosystems that support these magnificent raptors.

By venturing into these remarkable habitats and immersing yourself in the natural wonders of Hawaii, you may be fortunate enough to witness the soaring flight and captivating presence of hawks, adding an extra touch of magic to your island adventure.


As the sun sets over Hawaii’s picturesque landscapes, the presence of hawks reminds us of the incredible diversity and beauty of the islands. From the sacred ‘Io to the captivating raptors that grace the skies, these birds of prey symbolize the harmony between nature and culture in this Pacific paradise.

As we cherish and protect their habitats, let us celebrate the majestic hawks of Hawaii, ensuring their presence for generations to come.

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