Hawaii: Summer 2023

Alex Wang

Jennifer Rothe

Recommended citation:

Wang, A. and J. Rothe. 2023. Summer 2023: Hawaii. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-gKU> North American Birds.

Summer in the Hawaii Region tends to be a relatively quiet time for local birders. Overwintering ducks and shorebirds have typically long since departed the islands for their breeding grounds. By the beginning of June, the stream of spring migrants has more or less dried up, and autumn migration tends not to begin in earnest until August. The remoteness of the Hawaiian Archipelago—thousands of miles removed from the nearest continental land mass—lessens the chance of vagrant arrivals outside of these windows of mass seasonal movement. There are, however, notable exceptions. Incredibly, two separate Long-tailed Ducks were discovered along the Kona Coast of Hawaiʻi Island a mere two days apart. All previous Long-tailed Duck occurrences recorded in the archipelago—a grand total of only four individuals—involved single birds between late Nov and Feb.

While summer marks the official start of the hurricane season for Hawai’i, the arrival of the Long-tailed Ducks did not appear to have been related to any major weather system. In fact, the first named storm of the season did not form until 27 Jun: a full ten days after the last duck sighting… and the second-most-delayed start to the hurricane season in satellite-monitored history. Hurricane Calvin was the only major storm to closely approach the Hawaiian Islands during the summer period, and it had weakened to a tropical storm by the time it passed well south of Hawaiʻi Island on 19–20 Jul. Drought conditions developed in June and worsened throughout the summer. Windward Hawaiʻi Island received below-average rainfall this summer, but by the conclusion of the summer season, leeward Maui especially was parched.

Unfortunately, a storm of a different variety continued to wreak havoc in the islands. In recent decades, the reach of non-native mosquitoes has marched ever upwards in elevation, encroaching on the last refugia for many of Hawaii’s unique endemic birds. Culex mosquitoes transmit diseases such as pox and avian malaria, and often just a single bite from an infected mosquito translates to a death sentence for many forest birds. The islands’ most critically endangered honeycreeper, ʻAkikiki, hung on this summer but only barely; by the conclusion of the season only five individuals were known to persist in the wilds of Kauaʻi. Three other honeycreepers—Kiwikiu, ʻAkekeʻe, and ʻĀkohekohe—are also under threat of extinction in the next decade, primarily as a result of avian malaria.


Jennifer Rothe (Kauaʻi Co), Alex Wang (Hawaiʻi Co)

Waterfowl through Raptors

Two Snow Geese summered over in the Hawaiian Islands: Kauaʻi’s long-term resident continued at the Princeville Makai Golf Course (m. ob.), as did Hawaiʻi Island’s individual, present at Hilo’s Waiakea Pond since Oct 2022 (m. ob.). Midway’s Greater White-fronted Goose, first reported Oct 2022 and observed regularly through spring, was reported two final times: on 6 Jun (Steve Holzman) and 8 Jun (Alex Wang). Most Greater White-fronted Geese that make their way to the Hawaii Region depart before the arrival of summer. Cackling Goose is primarily a winter visitor to the Hawaiian Islands; however, at least four individuals spent the summer in the archipelago. Unsurprisingly, the Cackling Goose residing at Hawaiʻi Island’s Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant for the past decade continued at that location (m. ob.). One Cackling Goose was at Oʻahu’s Pearl Harbor NWR on 2 Jun (Kurt Pohlman, Rob Nicholson) and two were photographed flying over the same area on 13 Jun (Jim Conner). On Kauaʻi, an unbanded Cackling Goose was photographed at Poʻipū Golf Course on 11 Jul (Jordan Lerma).

A late male Northern Shoveler was documented at Maui’s Keālia Pond NWR on 4 Jun (Katrina Moilanen). A common winter visitor, the majority of individuals depart by early May. Summer records of the species are atypical, though not unheard of. Lesser Scaup exhibits a similar pattern of seasonal occurrence in the islands, with only a handful of substantiated summer records on the books (Pyle & Pyle 2017). However, Hawaiʻi Island’s Waiakea Pond in Hilo seems to be a bit of a hotspot for summer scaup activity, having hosted summer birds in 2022 and 1980. This year, a Lesser Scaup was present 10 Jun–21 Jul (Bill Eisele, Kristen Tanski, Jim Carpenter, Brenda Carpenter, Sherman Wing, Joel Strafelda, Nicole Carion, Michael Carion, Grigory Heaton, James Bailey, Kellen Apuna).

On Hawaiʻi Island’s leeward side, a male Long-tailed Duck was photographed on 13 Jun at Kiholo Bay (Samantha Sparks). This bird was never seen again, but a second individual—a female in non-breeding plumage—was photographed a mere two days later at Kealakehe WTP (Reginald David), where it remained through 17 Jun (Dan Coleman, Decie Coleman, Cheshta Buckley, Christian Reynolds, Peter Rigsbee, Lance Tanino, Jim Carpenter, Brenda Carpenter, Sherman Wing). Historical Long-tailed Duck records in the Hawaii Region are few and (until this summer’s detections) exclusively occurred in late fall and winter. A deceased male was found washed up on Midway Atoll on 23 Nov 1958 (Pyle & Pyle 2017). In the Main Hawaiian Islands, a male was documented daily at Haleiwa, Oʻahu 4 Dec 1993–9 Feb 1994 and a female was briefly detected at the Kona Sewage Treatment Plant 3–4 Jan 1998 (Pyle & Pyle 2017). Nearly a quarter century passed before the next sighting on 29 Nov 2022, of a male at Keahou Bay, Hawaiʻi Island (Bret Nainoa Mossman, Thane Pratt, Reginald David, Lance Tanino, Sherman Wing, John Lynch, Rebecca Dewhirst, Michael Carion). This summer’s Long-tailed Ducks were only the fourth and fifth live individuals ever recorded in the Hawaii Region.

Present at Hilo’s Waiākea Pond since 2015, Hawaiʻi Island’s resident Pied-billed Grebe continued throughout the summer (Bill Eisele, Kristen Tanski, Jim Carpenter, Brenda Carpenter, Marty Freeland, Joel Strafelda). Parasitic Jaeger was reported twice in waters off of Oʻahu on 15 Jun. The first was 5 km southwest of Kaʻena Point and the other was 20 km north of Kaʻena Point. Both were adult light morphs (Terry Doyle). A fair share of immature gulls find their way to the Hawaii Region in winter, but individuals that extend their stay into the summer are unusual. One Laughing Gull was reported offshore of Kaiwi Point, Hawaiʻi Island on 12 Jul (Alan Robbins). On Oʻahu, an individual was photographed at Nuʻupia Ponds NWR in heavy wing molt on 16 Jul (DD Kido, Howard Kido). White Tern is rare in the Main Hawaiian Islands apart from Oʻahu, where it nests in tall trees lining the city streets of Honolulu. However, a bird was reported flying east during a 3 Jul Port Allen sea watch on the south shore of Kauaʻi (Adrian Burke). Gray-backed Tern was encountered during a boat tour offshore from Waimea, Kauaʻi, on 4 Jun (Eli Gross).

Least Tern primarily breeds in the Caribbean and along coastal areas of the southern United States and Mexico, but there are a few breeding sites in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Hawaiʻi Island’s Kealakehe WTP was first documented to have produced Least Tern chicks in 2012 (Pyle & Pyle 2017). While breeding activity was not specifically noted at that location this summer, the continued presence of adults in the area 2–29 Jun suggests the possibility of ongoing reproduction (Michael Schaefer, Reginald David, Lance Tanino, Michael Carion, Jim Carpenter, Brenda Carpenter). Least Tern has bred annually on Midway Atoll since 2017, and this year was no exception. Between two and ten individuals, including confirmed chicks, were reported regularly 3 Jun–24 Jul (Jonathan Plissner, Chris Forster, Alex Wang, Steve Holzman, Peter McClelland, Jonathan Plissner). Two Little Terns were photographed on Midway on 17 Jun (Alex Wang, Steve Holzman). Despite this Old World species having nested on Midway in prior years, breeding activity was not reported this season (Alex Wang, Steve Holzman).

Red-billed Tropicbird, a long-recurring rarity on Oʻahu, was seen once at its usual spot—the Japanese Fishing Shrine—on 1 Jun (Kurt Pohlman, Rob Nicholson, Michael Young, Bill Eisele). However, the species also turned up on Kauaʻi this summer: an individual was photographed at Kīlauea Point NWR, being harassed by the Red-tailed Tropicbirds, on 26 Jul (Alex Jones, Brandon Stidum, Caleb Villar). Following the successful fledging of the 2023 Short-tailed Albatross chick from Midway on 23 May, there were no further reports of the species during the summer (Cooper 2023). On Maui, one Band-rumped Storm-Petrel was reported during a sea watch from Mokolea Point on 24 Jul (Josh Beck). Despite the existence of breeding colonies within Maui Co., summer reports of the species at sea in this area are sporadic. A Black-winged Petrel was photographed 10 km east of Kaua’i on 9 Jul (Yann Muzika). Native to New Zealand and its outlying islands, this species is most often encountered as an autumn migrant in Hawaiian waters.

A northbound Buller’s Shearwater was seen during a 10 Jun sea watch from Keāhole Point, Hawaiʻi Island (Lance Tanino, Bill Eisele). Five westbound individuals were tallied passing Port Allen on the south shore of Kauaʻi on 1 Jun (Adrian Burke) followed by four on 2 Jun (Adrian Burke, David Hanna). Sooty Shearwater migrates northwards through Hawaiian waters in spring, with the biggest pulse occurring late March through early May. Three westbound stragglers passed by Port Allen on 1 Jun (Adrian Burke) and one more was observed on 2 Jun (Adrian Burke, David Hanna).

Masked Booby is infrequently reported from Kauaʻi County. However, an individual was picked out from the similar-looking (and vastly more numerous) Red-footed Booby in the vicinity of Lehua Islet on 29 Jul (Alex Jones). White-faced Ibis is an annual winter visitor in the Hawaiian Islands, but individuals were reported this summer at Kauaʻi’s Hanalei NWR on 26 Jul (Josh Beck, Lucas Lombardo, Julien Mazenauer, Alex Jones) and at Maui’s Keālia and Kanahā Ponds on 15 Jun (Ryan McPherren) and 2 Jul (Nathan Thuma), respectively. An Osprey was photographed with a fish in its talons at Molokaʻi’s Kaunakakai WTP (Louisa Cockram). This may be the same individual that has periodically been reported on Molokaʻi since Nov 2022 (Tim Ward, Gerald McKeating, Jean Eaton).


Introduced to Kauaʻi around 1931, White-rumped Shama dispersed to the neighboring islands. It only appeared on Maui relatively recently, with the first substantiated sighting at Honolua Bay on 25 May 2015 (Pyle & Pyle 2017). The summer, reports were generally confined to areas of Maui’s western lobe where the species had previously been noted: at Honolua Bay (Richard Erickson, Nagi Aboulenin, Taghrid Elmeligui), Kapalua (Brian H.), Waiheʻe Ridge Trail and adjacent ridges (Emerson Quarton, Katrina Moilanen, Josh Ackerman), Waiheʻe Coastal Dunes (Shawnlei Breeding, Taghrid Elmeligui, Nagi Aboulenein), and ʻIao Valley (Klaus Daimler). The main outlier of distribution came from Haʻiku, where a male was photographed on 28 Jun (Jim Yeskett). This is one of the first substantiated records of White-rumped Shama from northeast Maui.

Kauaʻi’s rarest native bird was reported a couple of times this summer. An unbanded ʻAkikiki was observed for about 30 seconds in the ʻAlakaʻi Wilderness Preserve on 10 Jul (Tristan Kozel, Tom Mazurek) and two unbanded birds were detected in the same area on 27 Jul (Lucas Lombardo, Julien Mazenauer). The status of Kauaʻi’s endemic ʻAkikiki is critically dire even by Hawaii standards, which is no small feat in a region frequently referred to as the “extinction capital of the world.” Though the fossil record indicates the species was once found island-wide, a suite of contemporary introduced factors resulted in severe range contraction and population declines. Of these, mosquito-borne avian malaria poses the most immediate, dire threat to the continued existence of ʻAkikiki, with extinction in the wild predicted to occur this year (Paxton et al., 2022). In light of this, efforts have been underway to bring the last few surviving birds into captivity. However, in addition to nest depredations by non-native rats, field conservation teams saw a number of adult ʻAkikiki simply vanish midway through the summer, most likely silent victims of malaria. By mid-July, the Department of Land and Natural Resources publicly announced that only five ʻAkikiki were known to persist in the wild (Dennison 2023). Despite the catastrophic breeding season, eleven of the twelve eggs collected by conservationists hatched successfully in captivity (Dennison 2023), joining a captive flock of about 40 ʻAkikiki founded from egg and chick collection efforts 2015–2018 (Paxton et al., 2022). Landscape-level mosquito control (via the “incompatible insect technique,” employing naturally occurring Wolbachia bacteria) now represents the only hope for future reintroduction and recovery of this unassuming yet charismatic honeycreeper (Birds Not Mosquitoes 2023).

Palila, the only extant member of 16 historic “finch-billed” Hawaiian honeycreeper species, inhabits native forests on the dry, upland slopes of Mauna Kea, Hawaiʻi Island. Almost entirely dependent upon the māmane tree for its food, Palila often undergoes elevational migrations to track the availability of green seed pods. Drought conditions in recent years have suppressed the seed crop—which is strongly tied to the bird’s reproductive success—as well as increased the risk of wildfire in critical habitat (Banko et al. 2020). This summer, however, the māmane were reportedly in full bloom even at the relatively low elevation of 6500 feet above sea level, and an impressive four birds were seen at their namesake Palila Discovery Trail on 21 Jun (Jim Carpenter, Brenda Carpenter). Two Palila were also detected much farther upslope on 16 Jun (Michael Kearns).

ʻĀkohekohe, Maui’s iconic “crested honeycreeper,” today occurs only on the northeastern slopes of Haleakalā. The species declined by 78% between 2001 and 2017, with the most recent estimate placing the population at around 1657 individuals (Paxton et al., 2022). This summer, three ʻĀkohekohe were seen and a fourth was heard in Waikamoi Preserve on 8 Jul (Nagi Aboulenein, Taghrid Elmeligui, Jonathan Slifkin). One ʻĀkohekohe was also heard there on 31 Jul (Chris Warren, Paul Radley).

Kiwikiu, indisputably Maui’s most endangered honeycreeper, was reported twice from Waikamoi Preserve this summer: one was seen on 8 Jul (Nagi Aboulenein, Taghrid Elmeligui) and two were heard on 31 Jul (Chris Warren, Paul Radley). Also called the “Maui parrotbill” after its powerful, twig-snapping mandibles, the species once occurred on Maui and Molokaʻi. Adult Kiwikiu can live to the impressively old age of 16 years. However, the typical clutch size consists of only one egg, and the lengthy juvenile dependency period can extend for up to 18 months (Simon et al., 1997). A variety of introduced threats conspired with these demographic challenges to cause severe population declines and range contractions. Today the species occurs only as a single population on the high-elevation, windward slopes of Haleakalā (Camp et al., 2009). A small captive population was established in 1997 but has thus far shown meager promise for the recovery of the species (Warren et al., 2020). An attempt was made in Oct 2019 to establish a second Kiwikiu breeding population on Maui’s leeward side. However, malarial infection rates at both the Nakula NAR release site and the Hanawī NAR source population were both higher than previous data had indicated, ultimately rendering the reintroduction unsuccessful (Warren et al., 2020). The most recent estimate places the global Kiwikiu population at around 135 individuals (Paxton et al., 2022). Without landscape-level mosquito control, extinction is forecast between 2024 and 2032, with 2027 being the most likely (Paxton et al., 2022).

ʻAkekeʻe is Kauaʻi’s second-most endangered honeycreeper, having experienced a 98% population decline in the interior of its range 2000–2012 (Paxton et al., 2016). While the species occasionally pops up farther afield, the nexus for reports is the Mōhihi-Waiʻalae Trail. A pair were seen together there on 10 Jul (Tristan Kozel, Tom Mazurek), and an individual was noted as occurring in a mixed flock with ʻApapane and Kauaʻi ʻElepaio on 27 Jul (Lucas Lombardo, Julien Mazenauer). Like most of Hawaii’s most endangered honeycreepers, the threats faced by ʻAkekeʻe are many, but mosquito-borne avian malaria is the most concerning. The global ʻAkekeʻe population is estimated at 638 individuals, and captive breeding has thus far proven difficult for this enigmatic species (Paxton et al. 2022). Landscape-level suppression of mosquitoes via the Wolbachia incompatible insect technique will be an important cornerstone in conservation strategy for ensuring the future of this species (Paxton et al. 2022, Birds Not Mosquitoes).

After first being detected on Maui near Kula in 2010 (Pyle & Pyle 2017), Saffron Finch has appeared to slowly increase in prevalence across the island. However, reports this summer were comparatively sparse: one bird was noted at Papakea Resort on 7 Jun (Kenneth Weaver), another was at Waiheʻi Ridge Trail 20 Jul (Nagi Aboulenein, Taghrid Elmeligui), and one bird was photographed in Kula on 26 Jun (Alex Keitt, Brad Keitt).

Yellow-faced Grassquit is native to eastern Mexico and the Caribbean but was introduced to Oʻahu sometime prior to 1974, most likely via escaped caged birds. By the 1980s, the mountainous interior of the island hosted scores of the birds, and they were added to the Hawaii Checklist in 1983 (Pyle & Pyle 2017). While Hawaii Audubon Society noted continued range expansion through 2005, Waipiʻo Christmas Bird Count data strongly suggest overall population declines 1990–2014. Reports of Yellow-faced Grassquit over the last decade have almost exclusively been relegated to remote ridgeline trails, with the exception of a lowland 2019 cluster at Kaʻena Point SP. However, this summer there were reports in a residential neighborhood in the foothills on Oʻahu’s windward side: a male and female were seen on 3 Jun (Thorsten Haver) and three individuals were present on 10 Jun (Thorsten Haver). Five were found on 20 Jun (Marty Freeland) and four were noted on 30 Jun, including two singing males (Richard May, Peter Donaldson). In July, most observations pertained to one individual: on 1 Jul (Kellen Apuna), 6 Jul (Michael Young), and 9 Jul (Richard May, Jim Carpenter, Brenda Carpenter). However, two birds were reported on 10 Jul (Jim Carpenter, Brenda Carpenter) and 31 Jul (Thorsten Haver). One Yellow-faced Grassquit was also heard calling at Lyon Arboretum on 6 Jun (Kellen Apuna), after having been reported there only once before, in Apr 2019 (Liz Steward, Laura Steward, Alan Stewart).

Banko, P. C., L. Johnson, G. D. Lindsey, S. G. Fancy, T. K. Pratt, J. D. Jacobi, and W. E. Banko. 2020. Palila (Loxioides bailleui), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.palila.01

Birds Not Mosquitoes. Accessed 28 Oct 2023. https://www.birdsnotmosquitoes.org/

Camp, R. J., R. M. Gorresen, T. K. Pratt, and B. L. Woodworth. 2009. “Population trends of native Hawaiian forest birds, 1976-2008: The data and statistical analyses.” Hawaii Cooperative Studies Unit, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center. Technical Report HCSU-012.

Cooper, J. “UPDATED. Who’s a big boy then? Midway Atoll’s latest Short-tailed Albatross chick gets its bands—and fledges a month later.” Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. 30 May 2023, updated 02 Jun 2023. https://www.acap.aq/fr/actualites/dernieres-nouvelles/whos-a-big-boy-then-midway-atolls-latest-short-tailed-albatross-chick-gets-its-bands. Accessed 29 Oct 2023.

Dennison, D. “Only Five ʻAkikiki Left in Mountains of Kauaʻi and Their Chances of Survival are Slim.” Department of Land and Natural Resources. 13 Jul 2023. https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/blog/2023/07/13/nr23-114/

Paxton, E. H., R. J. Camp, M. Gorresen, L. H. Crampton, D. L. Leonard, Jr., and E. A. VanderWerf. 2016. “Collapsing Avian Community on a Hawaiian Island.” Science Advances 2:9. https://www.science.org/doi/pdf/10.1126/sciadv.1600029

Pyle, R. L., and P. Pyle. 2017. “The Birds of the Hawaiian Islands: Occurrence, History, Distribution, and Status.” B. P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI, U.S.A. Version 2 (1 January 2017). http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/birds/rlp-monograph

Simon, J. C., T. K. Pratt, K. E. Berlin, J. R. Kowalsky. 1997. “Reproductive Ecology of the Maui Parrotbill.” The Wilson Bulletin, 112(4):482-490.https://bioone.org/journals/the-wilson-bulletin/volume-112/issue-4/0043-5643_2000_112_0482_REOTMP_2.0.CO_2/REPRODUCTIVE-ECOLOGY-OF-THE-MAUI-PARROTBILL/10.1676/00435643(2000)112[0482:REOTMP]2.0.CO;2.short

Warren, C.C., L.K. Berthold, H.L. Mounce, P. Luscomb, B. Masuda. L. Berry. 2020. “Kiwikiu Translocation Report 2019.” Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit Technical Report #203. University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Honolulu, HI. 103 pages.

Report processed by Randi Minetor, 15 Feb 2024.

Photos–Hawaii: Summer 2023

A Greater White-fronted Goose and giant Laysan Albatross chick make for an atypical species pairing on Midway Atoll on 08 Jun 2023. Most migratory geese who find themselves in the Hawaii Region depart before the start of the summer season. Photo © Alex Wang.

The Cackling Goose photographed at Kauaʻi’s Mahaʻulepu Heritage Trail on 11 Jul 2023 provided a good opportunity for direct comparison with its Hawaiian Goose cousin. In Hawaii, Cackling Goose is primarily a fall and winter visitor; however, some individuals have been known to over-summer in the islands. Photo © Jordan Lerma.

Lesser Scaup is an annual winter visitor across the Hawaiian Islands, but substantiated summer records number in the single digits. Waiakea Pond, within Wailua River State Park on Hawaiʻi Island, was one such over-summering location in 1980 and 2022, and now 2023. Photo © Bill Eisele.

This male Long-tailed Duck, photographed at Hawaiʻi Island’s Kiholo Bay on 13 Jun 2023 and never seen again, was only the fourth individual ever documented in the Main Hawaiian Islands. Photo © Samantha Sparks.

To everyone’s surprise, Hawaiʻi Island’s second Long-tailed Duck report in as many days pertained not to the same bird, but rather to a second individual! While the Kiholo Bay bird was a male, the bird discovered on 15 Jun at Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant was female. 17 Jun 2023. Photo © Reginald David.

The Little Tern returned again to Midway Atoll, near the northwestern end of the Hawaiian Archipelago. While the species has successfully bred at this location in the past, nesting behavior was not reported to eBird this summer. 17 Jun 2023. Photo © Steve Holzman.

Avian malaria continued to wreak havoc on Hawaii’s most critically endangered honeycreeper this summer. When this ʻAkikiki was photographed 27 Jul 2023, it was one of only five individuals known to persist in Kauaʻi’s ʻAlakaʻi Wilderness Preserve. Photo © Lucas Lombardo.

ʻĀkohekohe, Maui’s “crested honeycreeper,” has declined by 78% between 2001 and 2017. This individual, photographed at Waikamoi Preserve on 08 Jul 2023, is one of an estimated 1657 remaining. Photo © Jonathan Slifkin.