Majestic Hawks in Hawaii (Only 2!!)




Hawks in Hawaii

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Hawaii, known for its breathtaking landscapes and rich biodiversity, is home to a unique group of avian residents – the hawks. These magnificent birds of prey play an important role in the delicate island ecosystem. From the endemic Hawaiian Hawk to the captivating Northern Harrier, Hawaii offers a diverse range of hawk species that have adapted to the islands’ distinct habitats.

In the beautiful state of Hawaii, only two species of hawks are found:

  1. Hawaiian Hawk: Known locally as ‘Io, the Hawaiian Hawk is a species endemic to Hawaii and can be seen across the Big Island, particularly around the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge and Volcanoes National Park. It holds a cultural significance to the native Hawaiians, symbolizing royalty and considered a family god or ‘aumakua.

  2. Northern Harrier: The Northern Harrier, though not as commonly sighted as the Hawaiian Hawk, occasionally visits the island chain. Its sightings are sporadic but usually reported in open fields or grasslands of the Big Island and Maui.

Hawaiian Hawk

Hawaiian Hawk
Scientific NameButeo solitarius
Length16 to 18 in
Wingspan34.2-39.7 in
Weight15.6 oz-21.3 oz

The Hawaiian Hawks exhibit two color phases, a light and a dark phase, with some individuals showcasing a mix of both. Light-phase birds have white undersides and underwings, while dark-phase birds are mostly chocolate brown with dark brown head. They are versatile hunters and are known for their prowess in catching prey both in mid-air and on the ground. Their diet primarily includes rodents, small birds, and insects. The Hawaiian Hawk’s preferred habitat ranges from sea level to the mountains, encompassing grasslands, forests, and even developed agricultural and urban areas.

The ‘Io, also known as the Hawaiian Hawk, is a unique species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, making it exclusive to this region and not found anywhere else in the world. These magnificent birds can thrive in diverse environments, from sea level all the way up to elevations reaching 6,500 feet.

The Hawaiian Hawk, known as ‘Io in the local language, is an iconic bird of prey endemic to Hawaii, found predominantly on the Big Island. Its status as the only hawk native to Hawaii has made it a symbol of the islands’ unique natural heritage. It holds a profound cultural significance among native Hawaiians, symbolizing royalty, and is often considered a family god, or ‘aumakua. The ‘Io is known for its piercing call, a distinctive whistle that resonates through the forested areas where it makes its home.

Although ‘Io can be observed across the main Hawaiian Islands, their breeding activity has been documented solely on the Big Island of Hawaii. While they possess the ability to hunt in various altered landscapes, such as farmlands, they choose to breed and build their nests exclusively in forests populated by Native Hawaiian trees. This preference for native tree habitats highlights the importance of preserving the natural environment to ensure the continued success of the ‘Io population in Hawaii.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier 2
Scientific NameCircus hudsonius
Length41–52 cm (16–20 in)
Wingspan 97–122 cm (38–48 in)
WeightMale 10 to 26 ounces (280 to 730 g)
Female: 11 to 30 ounces (310 to 850 g)

The Northern Harrier is a bird of prey that belongs to the Circinae subfamily and stands out due to its distinctively owl-like facial disk, slender body, and long tail. This species exhibits a low and slow flying pattern when hunting, often skimming just above the ground of open fields and marshes. The males are predominantly gray, while the females and young are brown with streaks of white.

Northern Harriers primarily feed on small mammals and birds. Unique among hawks, these birds possess an owl-like trait of using auditory cues as well as visual ones to locate and catch prey. They’re also known for their polygynous breeding system, where a male may have up to five mates at once, each nesting in different locations within his territory.

What other Birds of Prey Can be Found in Hawaii?

Hawaii is home to a unique assortment of birds of prey, a result of the islands’ isolation and diverse habitats. Apart from the native Hawaiian Hawk, or ‘Io, other raptors that can be found here are predominantly owls and seabirds.

The Pueo, or Hawaiian Short-eared Owl, is another bird of prey endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. These owls can be seen in the open grasslands and forests across the islands, hunting during the day or at twilight.

The Osprey, also known as the Fish Hawk, can be spotted along the Hawaiian coastlines diving for fish. This bird is not a native species but is a frequent visitor.

Seabirds such as the White-tailed Tropicbird and the Brown Booby, while not raptors in the traditional sense, are also considered birds of prey due to their hunting style. They’re often seen soaring over the ocean, diving to catch fish and squid.

The Black Kite, an accipitrid, is also occasionally reported though it’s not a regular visitor. Observations indicate that it may be expanding its range into the Hawaiian islands. It’s mostly spotted around the coastal areas and open fields.

Our exploration of the majestic birds of prey doesn’t end with the enchanting Hawaiian Hawk. Just across the Pacific, the diverse landscapes of California offer a rich array of raptor species, from the elegant Red-shouldered Hawk to the nimble Cooper’s Hawk. Be sure to check out our guide on the hawks in California for an in-depth look at these splendid creatures.

Further to the north, the lush forests of Oregon serve as the home to some of the most intriguing birds of prey, including the Northern Goshawk and the Sharp-shinned Hawk. You can find more about these Oregon inhabitants in our Oregon hawks guide. As you traverse the west coast, let these guides provide you with the best spots to admire these powerful birds in their natural habitat.

FAQs about Hawaiian Hawks:

What is the significance of the Hawaiian Hawk in Hawaiian culture?

In traditional Hawaiian culture, the Hawaiian Hawk, or ‘Io, holds a position of reverence. Seen as an exalted bird, it was considered a royal symbol and a personal god for some. Hawaiian legend says that these birds are familial guardians or ‘aumakua, adding to their importance in the Hawaiian culture.

What is the natural habitat of the Hawaiian Hawk?

The Hawaiian Hawk, or ‘Io, is a bird species native to the Hawaiian archipelago. It inhabits native forest habitats on the Big Island of Hawaii, particularly the native ʻōhiʻa lehua forests. It’s a sedentary bird, meaning it stays in its territory year-round, a characteristic that has shaped its unique adaptation to Hawaii.

What are the feeding habits of the Hawaiian Hawk?

As opportunistic predators, Hawaiian Hawks have a varied diet. They prey on a range of animals, including game birds, introduced animals like invasive rodents, and other small animals. Interestingly, these birds hunt from a stationary position, swooping down to capture prey once spotted.

When is the breeding season of the Hawaiian Hawk?

The breeding season of the Hawaiian Hawk occurs during the spring months. The process of nest building and egg laying starts in March and April. After about seven or eight weeks, the chicks hatch and are cared for by both parents, with both parents delivering food to the nest.

Is the Hawaiian Hawk endangered?

Yes, the Hawaiian Hawk is listed as an endangered species by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Many threats, including habitat loss due to invasive plants and introduced livestock, habitat degradation, and illegal shooting, contribute to their declining numbers. Conservation efforts are ongoing to protect this unique bird species of Hawaii.

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