Endemic Maui Seabirds

July 1, 2016

Photo Provided by: Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project

If you've been to Hawaii before, you may have noticed that our beaches are peculiarly free of seabirds. Unlike mainland coasts, you won't find swarms of marauding seagulls here. Many vacationers are grateful for our poop-free skies and merciful freedom from thieving beaks. But in fact, Hawaii does have a colorful collection of seabirds. Their populations are simply sparse in the areas that beachgoers tend to frequent.

Hawaii's seabirds include fascinating species like shearwaters, petrels, noddies, tropicbirds, terns, frigatebirds and boobies (yes, the bird, not the other thing). Diet is one of the factors in seabird location, and their aquatic prey are often richest near rocky coastline areas or further out in the ocean, not so much around Maui's popular beaches.

Nesting preferences are another major factor in seabird ranges. Some, like the sooty tern ('ewa 'ewa), nest on the sand, which can't be done with scads of people traipsing about nearby. Others, like the great frigatebird creates nesting platforms in low bushes, which are also easily reachable by meddlesome humans.

In all seriousness though, while people can and do like to disturb bird nests out of curiosity, the cats, rats and mongoose of the main islands can all be serious predators of eggs and young hatchlings. That's why the smaller and more untouched northwestern Hawaiian islands are the preferred breeding grounds of many of these birds. That being said, some Hawaiian seabirds actually do nest here on Maui. The endangered Hawaiian petrel have established breeding grounds up at the safely remote summit of Haleakala, including approximately 450-600 breeding pairs. The more prolific wedge-tailed shearwater actually does brave some of Maui's popular beaches for nesting, albeit carefully, and Newell’s shearwater is known to nest in jungle habitats in the West Maui Mountains and the Kipahulu area of East Maui.

So although you won't see these graceful gliders every day, they can be spotted at times on some lucky outings, like our Maui ocean tours. In fact, the tiny crescent isle of Molokini off Maui's south shore can sometimes house wedge-tailed shearwater and Bulwer’s petrel. You might just be lucky enough to see them if you're aboard our Molokini Snorkel Tour, which is the only one that departs from the Lahaina Harbor. This is most convenient departure location for those staying in West Maui. We hope to see you aboard with us soon, and if you want to learn more about Hawaii's endemic seabirds, might we suggest checking out www.mauinuiseabirds.org. Mahalo!

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