Owls in Hawaii (With Pictures)

Owls in Hawaii (With Pictures)

Hawaii, a paradise renowned for its vibrant biodiversity and unique ecosystems, is also home to some of the most intriguing avian predators: owls. Among these, the native Hawaiian Short-eared Owl, known locally as the Pueo, and the introduced American Barn Owl, stand out for their distinctive behaviors and roles within local folklore and ecosystems.

These nocturnal and diurnal hunters, respectively, navigate the islands’ diverse habitats, from the lush rainforests to the open volcanic plains, each species adapting in its own way to the islands’ varied landscapes.

This article delves into the fascinating world of Hawaii’s owls, exploring their habits, the significance they hold in Hawaiian culture, and the challenges they face in a changing environment.

As symbols of wisdom and guardians in the night, the story of these owls offers a unique insight into Hawaii’s natural heritage and the ongoing efforts to preserve it. Join us as we embark on a journey to discover the elusive and captivating owls of Hawaii.

1. American Barn Owl

  • Scientific name: Tyto furcata
  • Life span: 10 years
  • Size: 34 to 38 cm (13 to 15 in)
  • Weight: 400 to 600 g (0.88 to 1.3 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 80 to 95 cm (31 to 37 in)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common (introduced)

The American Barn Owl, with its ghostly appearance and silent flight, is a captivating sight in the night skies of Hawaii. Originally not native to the Hawaiian Islands, this owl has successfully established itself across a range of habitats, from rural farmlands to the outskirts of urban areas.

The American Barn Owl is distinguished by its heart-shaped face, which is stark white, contrasting dramatically with its golden-brown and grey mottled body. Its large, dark eyes are designed to navigate the nocturnal world, making it a formidable presence under the moonlight. The species is known for its adaptability, finding refuge in barns, abandoned buildings, and dense trees.

Despite its widespread range, from the Americas to Europe, Africa, and Asia, the Barn Owl in Hawaii represents the species’ remarkable ability to thrive in diverse environments, adding a mysterious charm to the islands’ rich biodiversity.

American Barn Owl

The American Barn Owl, a silent guardian of the night, finds solace and sanctuary within the secluded corners of Hawaii’s landscapes. Unlike other birds that meticulously construct their nests, the Barn Owl prefers to repurpose existing structures—be it the hollows of ancient trees, the crevices of rocky cliffs, or the shadowy lofts of abandoned buildings.

This resourcefulness speaks volumes of the owl’s adaptability, a trait that has allowed it to thrive far from its original habitats. The female lays a clutch of eggs on a simple bed of regurgitated pellets, creating a soft, warm environment for her offspring. This minimalist approach to nesting, combined with the owl’s choice of hard-to-reach places, safeguards the young from potential predators, ensuring the continuation of their mysterious, moonlit ballet across the Hawaiian skies.

The American Barn Owl embarks nightly on a silent hunt over Hawaii’s fields and forests. This bird of prey is a master of stealth, its diet consisting primarily of rodents and small mammals that scurry beneath the cover of darkness. Its exceptional hearing, more acute than that of any other animal tested, allows it to detect and pinpoint the faintest rustles, leading it to its prey with unerring accuracy.

The Barn Owl’s contribution to controlling rodent populations is invaluable, making it a welcomed, albeit unseen, ally to Hawaiian agriculture and natural ecosystems. This natural pest control highlights the owl’s integral role in the balance of nature, a role it performs with quiet efficiency and grace.

In Hawaii, the American Barn Owl’s tale of conservation is interwoven with efforts to maintain the delicate balance of island ecosystems. Introduced to control rodent populations, the owl has adapted well to its new home, yet it faces challenges from habitat loss and human activity. Conservationists and researchers work diligently to monitor populations, ensuring that the Barn Owl’s presence benefits both the environment and human interests.

Education plays a key role in these efforts, raising awareness about the importance of preserving natural habitats and reducing the risks of collisions with vehicles, a common threat to these nocturnal hunters. The story of the American Barn Owl in Hawaii is a testament to the complex relationship between humans and wildlife, a relationship built on respect, understanding, and the shared goal of a sustainable coexistence.

2. Hawaiian Short-eared Owl (Pueo)

  • Scientific name: Asio flammeus sandwichensis
  • Life span: 10 years
  • Size: 13.4-16.9 in / 34-43 cm
  • Weight: 0.45 – 1.05 / 206-475 g
  • Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in / 85-103 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Hawaiian Short-eared Owl, or Pueo, is an emblem of the Hawaiian skies, weaving itself into the cultural and natural fabric of the islands. Unlike its nocturnal relatives, the Pueo is primarily diurnal, gracing the daylight hours with its presence.

This bird is a subspecies of the Short-eared Owl, uniquely adapted to life in Hawaii’s varied landscapes, from the volcanic plains to the grassy uplands. Its appearance is characterized by a mottled brown and buff plumage, blending seamlessly into the surrounding grasslands. The Pueo’s striking yellow eyes pierce through the daylight, a rare feature among owls.

Revered in Hawaiian culture as an ʻaumākua, or guardian spirit, the Pueo holds a special place in the hearts of the local people. Its presence across the Hawaiian Islands underscores the deep connections between the land, its wildlife, and the cultural heritage of its inhabitants.

Hawaiian Short-eared Owl

The Pueo, Hawaii’s native Short-eared Owl, exhibits a remarkable connection to the islands’ open grasslands and volcanic landscapes through its nesting behaviour. Eschewing the trees, the Pueo opts for a more grounded approach, crafting its nest directly on the earth. Tucked away in the grass or beneath the shelter of low-lying shrubs, the nest is a simple depression, lined with feathers and bits of vegetation.

This choice of nesting site reflects the Pueo’s harmony with the land, a trait that has endeared it to the Hawaiian people. The female incubates her eggs with a steadfast dedication, blending into the surroundings so well that she becomes nearly invisible, a ghostly guardian watching over her future brood. This nesting strategy, while humble, is a testament to the Pueo’s resilience and its deep-rooted place in Hawaii’s ecological and cultural tapestry.

The Pueo’s diet is a reflection of its role as a daytime hunter in Hawaii’s ecosystems. Gliding over open fields and meadows, it seeks out a variety of prey, from small rodents to insects, that thrive in the island’s diverse environments. This varied diet allows the Pueo to adapt to changing seasons and available food sources, showcasing its versatility as a predator.

The Pueo’s hunting technique, a mesmerizing display of agility, involves hovering and swooping down on unsuspecting prey, a tactic that highlights its keen senses and aerial prowess. This diet not only sustains the Pueo but also plays a crucial role in controlling pest populations, contributing to the health and balance of Hawaii’s natural habitats.

The conservation story of the Hawaiian Short-eared Owl, or Pueo, is a poignant chapter in Hawaii’s environmental history. Revered in Hawaiian culture as an ‘aumakua, or guardian spirit, the Pueo’s survival is a matter of cultural significance as well as ecological importance.

Facing threats from habitat destruction, invasive species, and environmental changes, the Pueo has become a focal point for conservation efforts across the islands. Initiatives to protect and restore its natural habitats, along with research to better understand its behaviour and needs, are crucial.

Community involvement and education are also key components, fostering a connection between the people of Hawaii and this cherished native owl. The fight to preserve the Pueo underscores a broader commitment to protecting Hawaii’s unique biodiversity, an endeavour that honours both the ecological and cultural heritage of the islands.

Where to look for Owls in Hawaii

From the lush, verdant forests to the open, agricultural lands, these owls have carved out niches where they can be observed in their natural environment. To find these mystical birds, one must venture into the landscapes they frequent at the times they are most active.

The Pueo, being diurnal, is often seen hunting during the early morning and late afternoon hours across open grasslands and the lower slopes of mountains where their prey scurries through the underbrush. In contrast, the American Barn Owl, a creature of the night, prefers the cloak of darkness and is best observed in the late evening or just before dawn in open areas such as farmlands, plantations, and near old structures where they nest.

Here are four prime locations for owl spotting in Hawaii:

  • Haleakalā National Park, Maui – The vast open spaces and lower slopes of this majestic volcano offer potential sightings of the Pueo gliding over the grasslands.
  • Waimea Valley, Oahu – This lush valley provides a mix of forested and open areas where both Pueo and Barn Owls may be found.
  • Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Big Island – The park’s diverse landscapes offer habitat for the Pueo, especially in open areas and along the park’s roads at dusk.
  • Kaua‘i Wildlife Refuge – Various wildlife refuges on Kaua‘i support habitats for the Pueo, where they can be seen hunting or resting during the day.

For the aspiring owl observer, patience and respect for these birds’ natural behaviours are key. Quiet, mindful exploration of these areas, preferably with binoculars at hand, increases the chances of a memorable encounter with Hawaii’s mysterious nocturnal and diurnal raptors.


In Hawaii, the mysterious allure of owls—from the native Pueo to the introduced Barn Owl—embodies the islands’ rich biodiversity and cultural heritage. Their survival hinges on balanced conservation efforts, uniting communities in safeguarding these majestic birds. Together, we can ensure that owls continue to grace Hawaii’s skies for generations.

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