Native Animals: Birds
The majority of plants, insects, snails, and birds inhabiting these islands before man arrived are found nowhere else in the world. In this section, we will survey some of the native animals that were present in the ahupua'a of Nawiliwili Bay before human arrival.
Native Animals: Birds relies on images from the US Fish and Wildlife National Wildlife Refuge web site and charts and information from the Atlas of Hawa'i 3rd Edition
Flying animals like birds, bats and large insects were the only successful land animals to reach the Hawaiian Islands. They were also responsible for bringing the majority of plants. Even for ocean creatures, the isolation of Hawai'i is a challenge. While islands in the western Pacific have more than 2,000 species of reef and shore fishes, Hawai'i has 550. The land animals that were able to overcome the great isolation of these islands found an environment free of competitors. The descendants of these original ancestors were able to spread out into a variety of habitats, becoming endemic species in the process. (Atlas of Hawai'i)
When humans first arrived in Hawai'i, there were more than 140 species of native birds. All 80 species of landbirds, 4 species of seabirds, and 29 species of waterbirds were endemic (found nowhere else in the world). Today, over half of these birds are extinct. Thirty of the remaining 66 native bird species are endangered - threatened with extinction. (Atlas of Hawai'i)
Ae'o - the Hawaiian stilt
As a muliwai, or major estuary (semi enclosed area where fresh river water mixes with salt water), Nawiliwili Bay was a haven for native birds. To the left, the National Wildlife Refuge at Hule'ia continues a safe habitat for the remaining endangered waterbirds. Pictured above and below are some of these endangered waterbirds.
Alae'ula - moorhen
'Alaeke'oke'o - coot
Koloa maoli - Hawaiian Duck

- Hawaiian Hoary Bat
Ope'ape'a lives in the hau bush surrounding the wetlands. Bats are the only land mammals to make the journey to the islands unassisted. Like the pictured waterbirds, they are endangered.
Along the kahakai, or coastal zone, there were large nesting colonies of native birds. These are some of the shore birds that Hawaiians would have seen:

'Ulili - a song of the same name by George Keahi and George Naope describes this bird's tatlling cry and behavior along the shore:

' Ulili e (ahahana `ulili ehehene `ulili ahahana)
`Ulili ho`i (ehehene `ulili ahahana `ulili ehehene)
`Ulili holoholo kahakai e
O ia kai ua lana malie.
The sandpiper
The sandpiper returns
Sandpiper runs along the beach
Where the sea is peaceful and calm

'A'o - Wedge tailed shearwater. The
only seabird endemic to Hawai'i. It is
threatened with endangered status.

Kolea - Pacific Golden Plover
A migratory visitor that comes in August and leaves in May.

'Iwa -
Great Frigate Bird

In the kula, or lowland mesic and dry forest, there were many varieties of native land birds, many of which have become extinct since the arrival of man. These included flightless geese (larger than the nene),
rails, flightless ibis, and others.(Patrick Kirch) To the left is the Nene, our endemic goose, returning from the brink of extinction.
Nene photo by Dan Petr

In the wao akua, or wet forest, Hawaiian honeycreepers were especially prominent. They are the world's best example of the evolutionary phenomenon known as adaptive radiation (changing to survive new habitats). From a single finch like ancestor who colonized these islands, over 40 species have evolved. To the left, variation in color and bill shape in selected honeycreepers is related to their habitat and diet
(Atlas of Hawai'i)
Painting by H. Douglas Pratt
Loss of habitat and the introduction of alien species are key causes for the decline in the native bird population.
Hawaiian Islands
Bird Groups
Number of Species


These charts compare the different groups of birds in Hawai'i at the present time. The odds of native bird survival are swiftly accelerating downward in this "extinction capital of the world".(Atlas of Hawai'i)
Although birds are the most glamorous and visible of the endemic species, there are other native animals just as unique, though perhaps a bit more quiet and unassuming. Next, we look at the insects and snails.
Created June 2001