Sea Birds of Kauai
Boobie Bird off Kauai

Taking Flight Over the Na Pali


The Na ‘Pali Coast is filled with wonder and mystery. There are miles of unexplored valleys and waterfalls. The scenery is constantly changing, with cliff sides collapsing, and coastlines eroding. Each time I get on a boat, or enter the wilderness to hike a new trail, explore a new riverbed or canyon peak, I see Kauai’s sea birds and I wonder what they have seen and if they realize they live in paradise.

Sea Birds - Kauai
The Red-Footed Booby bird is frequently seen on the Na‘Pali Coast. While its bright red legs are tucked when flying, the best way to recognize the bird, is by the long blue beak.

Birds on Kauai range from native Hawaiian birds to birds introduced to the Hawaiian Islands throughout the years. Some are migratory, some live here their whole lives and some live at sea, keeping nests near beaches and on cliffs. This article will focus on a few choice birds found along the Na’Pali coast cliffs, caves, and valleys, as well as birds found in Kilauea on the north side of Kauai. There are many endangered species of birds found on Kauai, most importantly, the state bird, the Nene. The Na’Pali Coast, and surrounding Pacific Ocean is the perfect habitat for seabirds. By travelling long the Na’Pali Coast, we are able to get a glimpse at the lives of these free flyers.

Black-footed Albatross are the smallest of the Albatross family, but are still larger than most other seabirds with a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet.

The largest of the seabirds on Kauai, but smallest of its family is the Black-footed Albatross or Ka’upu. It can be seen on the ocean during daylight hours, hunting for fish eggs, squid, and crustaceans. This bird hunts alongside other types of birds, towering over with its 6-7ft wingspan. The black-footed Albatross is easily recognizable by a white band around its long, dark beak. The bird’s plumage is typically completely dark-gray to black, but some Black-footed Albatross have white tail feathers. From November to May, the birds nest near beaches. In monogamous pairs, they share the duty of incubating a single egg for 65 days. Because they only lay one egg a year, the Black-footed Albatross, like many other birds in Hawaii, have struggled in keeping population up.

Tropic Bird
White-tailed Tropic birds can be seen along the NaPali Coast, they are also seen at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on the northeastern part of Kauai

Alongside the Albatross, a smaller, but more flamboyant bird can be seen diving into the ocean. The White-Tailed and Red-Tailed Tropic Bird or Koa’e kea is an exciting sight on the Na’Pali. With a wingspan around 3ft, this bird is quick, and precise when hunting for small fish and squid. These birds are typically all white, with either long white or red tail feathers. This boisterous breed squeaks loudly when fighting and is known to have an extravagant display when courting. The Red-tailed Tropic Bird nests are tucked away beneath vegetation on the ground while the white-tailed birds nest on high cliff sides. While these birds can often be seen along the Na’Pali Coast, they are also seen at Kilauea Point, the National Wildlife Refuge on the northeastern part of Kauai.

The Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge offers a habitat ideal for nearly all seabirds on Kauai. ‘A, or the Red-Footed Booby bird’s largest colony is at the point. The, states there are more than 2,000 breeding pairs in Kilauea. If visiting the point, it might be difficult to identify the Red-Footed Booby because of its color variation. They are usually brown or white with bright, white tail feathers. The best way to identify the bird is by looking at its red feet or its long white or even blue beak. The Red-Footed Booby is an important bird for Kauai fisherman. Their flight patterns and hunting routines are a signal to fisherman, because the birds are usually spotted following schools of predatory fish like Tuna and sometimes even sharks. While the Red-Footed Booby is the most common booby on Kauai, the Brown Booby, with yellow feet can also be seen on coastlines including Kilauea. Some birds hunt alongside the Booby Bird, following the larger fish. The most commonly sighted birds are Noddies and Terns.

Black Noddies
Black Noddies spend their entire lives in Hawaii, while other seabirds only return to the islands for nesting.

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Chris Turner