One of the most popular tourist hotspots in the entire United States is Hawaii, for its tropical scenery, crystal clear oceans, gorgeous weather, and spectacular surfing. But it’s another kind of paradise altogether for birders–one full of some of the most beautiful winged creatures in the world.
- Most Common Birds — Cattle Egrets, Brazilian Red-cap Cardinal, Red-Vented Bulbul (commonly considered a pest, these days)
- Rare Birds — Akepa, Akiapola’au, ‘elepaio
- Environment of Hawaii — Tropical, island, beaches, rain forests, mountains, volcanic, fresh- and salt-water sources
- Best Time for Birdwatching Travel — A warm, tropical climate allows for beautiful year-round birding
Top 5 Hawaii Birding Trails
If you plan on making your way to the Aloha State for some seriously gorgeous birding, be sure to add these five hot spots to your itinerary.
Ke Ala Hele Makalae
This breathtakingly beautiful trail follows along the coast of Kauai for seven stunning miles. Beginning at Lydgate State Park and ending at Ahihi Point, the trail features several great stopping points at beaches and recreational areas. Ke Ala Hele Makalae is perfect for the whole family, even those who don’t take birding as seriously as you do. There are plenty of things to do along the path, plenty of sights to see, and plenty of natural beauty to behold.
Ke Al Hele Makalae is made from asphalt and concrete making it a great multi-use trail, for hikers, joggers, and bicyclists. This means that you need to be careful of traffic along the path as you stop to spot, collect, and catalogue those tropical beauties you see gliding along the island breeze. It’s a fairly popular spot, too, so if you don’t do well with a potential crowd, you might want to prepare yourself or think of visiting another trail for your birding pleasure.
Pearl Harbor Bike Path
For birders who are also cultural antiquity buffs, the Pearl Harbor Bike is a can’t-miss birding trail in Honolulu. Near the site of the infamous World War II attack, this path is steeped in both the wonder of the natural world and American history.
The path itself is 10 miles long, making it a great day-hike, full of grand vistas of the coast and a look at the modern industrialization of the island. Of course, the real stars of the trail are the birds, however. You can see coastal flyers up close and personal and perhaps even catch a bird of prey or two wheeling through the bright blue sky. Another family friendly trail, the Pearl Harbor Bike Path is a great tour for kids on bikes or couples hiking hand in hand.
The trail begins just past the parking lot of the Arizona Memorial (a must-see spot for those history fans) and ends at the Waipi’o Point Access Road. There are some heavy traffic points along the trail, but also plenty of places for some quiet observing. The wooden bridges are especially nice stopping points for some scenic Honolulu birding.
James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge
Established in 1976 to provide additional protection for Hawaii’s endangered waterbirds, the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge in Kahuku is on the island of Oahu. From October to April, you can view the bristle-thighed curlew (photographed above).
It is also home to four of Hawaii’s endangered waterbirds:
- ae’o (Hawaiian Stilt)
- ‘alae ke’oke’o (Hawaiian coot)
- ‘alae ‘ula (Hawaiian moorhen)
- Koloa maoli (Hawaiian duck)
Ka’ena Point Trail
The destination is just as important as the journey on this beautiful Hawaiian pathway. The Ka’ena Point Trail itself is a wonder to behold, but where it ends–at the Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve–is also an amazing hotspot for Aloha State birders.
The Ka’ena Point Trail follows the right-of-way of the former Oahu Railway and Land Company. This old outfit used to be used to transport sugar cane along Oahu’s west coast. Now, it offers a great afternoon for nature lovers and bird watchers. The path is ballast and dirt, so it’s a little less occupied than those popular Honolulu biking trails mentioned above–which is great for those who prefer a bit more solitude on their birding travels. The downside to a less firm surface is that the pathway has been known to wash out or get damaged by the ocean surf, so be sure to check with the Hawaii State Park department before you make the trek if you think there’s a chance it’ll be unnavigable.
If the coast is clear–so to speak– prepare yourself for observing some of Oahu’s most beautiful sea birds, both on the trail and at the reserve area at trail’s end. And if you find yourself trekking along the Ka’ena Point Trail during the winter months, be sure to look out into the water from time to time, as it’s very possible you could spot a whale or two.
Also — Ka’ena Point is one of the most remote places on Oahu. Be aware that car break-ins are an issue. Finally, there is no water or shade on this trail and it is often quite muddy. Be prepared.
Thanks to Annette from Annette’s Adventures for this additional piece of insider intel.
Malaekahana Bike and Pedestrian Path
As the name suggests, the Malaekahana Bike and Pedestrian Path can become a bit dangerous if you don’t watch where you’re going–you could have your observation of cardinals and terns interrupted by a Schwinn along your backside. But unlike the other Honolulu bike path hot spots, this trail is set in a more rural area, so the chances of getting claustrophobic are narrowed considerably.
The Malaekahana trail is just over a mile long and stretches between Laie and Kahuku. The area is lush and verdant, nestled between the ocean and the Ko’olau Mountains, meaning you’ll have plenty of opportunity to catch both sea birds and inland flyers along the short trek.
The trail itself is paved and 8-feet wide, making for fairly easy access, even when there are other people sharing the path with you. And while it does run parallel to the road, there’s plenty of grassy space between you and the moving cars. It’s a safe, easy, and beautiful way to spend a Western Oahu afternoon.
About the State of Hawaii
Hawaii is the most recent addition to the U.S., not becoming a state until 1959, but it has long been a destination for tropical travelers looking to find some rest and relaxation on the beach. The state is made up entirely of islands in the Pacific Ocean: Ni’ihau, Kaua’i, O’ahu, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Kaho’olawe, Mau’I, and “the big island” Hawai’i. But even though it seems like an island environment might be pretty uniform, the terrain of Hawaii is spectacularly varied and diverse.
The islands of Hawaii were shaped through the formative power of volcanic activity. Current activity continues to shape the archipelago even to this day. While this means that Hawaii can be potentially dangerous in a geological sense, it also makes it one of the most beautiful and exciting locations for travelers, explorers, and birders in the Pacific.