Tropical and enchanting, Hawaii is a paradise that offers much more than just beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters. It’s a biodiversity hotspot, housing a variety of unique flora and fauna that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet.
Among these unique inhabitants are Hawaii’s owls, captivating creatures that play an integral role in the local ecosystem.
This article will introduce you to the two owl species that call Hawaii home and provide insights into their characteristics, behaviors, and where to spot them.
Owl Species Found in Hawaii
Hawaiian Short-Eared Owl
- Scientific name: Asio flammeus sandwichensis
- Size: 38-44 cm (15-17 inches)
- Weight: 206-475 grams (7.3-16.8 ounces)
- Wingspan: 85-100 cm (33.5-39.4 inches)
- Time of the year: Year-round
Known as the Pueo in Hawaiian, the Hawaiian Short-eared Owl is a subspecies of the Short-eared Owl found throughout the world. However, unlike its relatives, the Pueo is active throughout the day, from dawn to dusk.
The Pueo is deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture and is considered an ‘aumakua, or ancestral spirit, in traditional Hawaiian beliefs. It’s commonly found in grasslands and open country, from sea level to mountains.
Their diet primarily consists of small rodents and birds. However, due to their adaptability, they can thrive in various habitats and have a varied diet, making them effective hunters.
Did you know? Unlike many owl species, the Pueo is often seen hunting during daylight hours. This daytime activity, combined with its cultural significance, makes it one of the most beloved and recognizable birds in Hawaii.
- Scientific name: Tyto alba
- Size: 33-40 cm (13-15.7 inches)
- Weight: 430-620 grams (0.94-1.36 pounds)
- Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31.5-37.4 inches)
- Time of the year: Year-round
Originally native to many parts of the world, the Barn Owl was introduced to Hawaii in the 1950s as a method of rodent control in sugarcane fields. Known locally as “Hawaiian Barn Owls,” these owls have a ghostly, heart-shaped face, pale body, and dark eyes, distinguishing them from most other owls.
Like their counterparts in other parts of the world, Hawaiian Barn Owls prefer open habitats such as grasslands and agricultural fields. They have adapted to various environments on the islands and are known to roost in tree cavities, cliff crevices, and of course, barns and other buildings.
Primarily nocturnal hunters, Barn Owls have an acute sense of hearing, allowing them to locate and capture prey in the dark. Their diet is mainly comprised of rats and mice.
Did you know? The Barn Owl doesn’t hoot like most owls. Instead, it produces a high-pitched screech, which, coupled with its ghostly appearance, has earned it various nicknames like “Ghost Owl” or “Demon Owl.” Despite being introduced species, they have successfully integrated into Hawaii’s ecosystem and are now an integral part of the island’s unique biodiversity.
Where & How to Observe Owls in Hawaii
Hawaii’s diverse landscapes offer several prime locations for spotting these mystical creatures. Here are a few places you can consider:
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Open fields and grasslands in this park provide an ideal habitat for the Pueo.
- Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge: Located on Kauai, this refuge offers a chance to spot both species in flight.
- Maui’s Haleakala National Park: The vast park is a suitable habitat for the Pueo, especially in the grassland areas.
- Agricultural fields: Both the Pueo and the Barn Owl can often be spotted in open fields, particularly where farming occurs.
For habitats, Pueo is commonly found in open grasslands, while Barn Owls prefer open fields and areas near human habitation, such as barns and other outbuildings.
Quick Tips For Owl Spotting
- Day and Dusk: Unlike many owl species, Pueo can be active during the day, particularly around dawn and dusk. For Barn Owls, dusk till night is the most active period.
- Listen for Calls: The Barn Owl’s screech and the Pueo’s various calls can be a telltale sign of their presence.
- Patience is Key: Spotting these creatures may require some time, so bring your patience along with binoculars.
- Join a Bird-Watching Tour: Local tours can offer expert knowledge and take you to the best spots for viewing.
- Respect Wildlife: Always view from a distance and never disturb an owl’s nesting area. Remember, these birds play a critical role in maintaining the health of Hawaii’s ecosystems.
Spotting owls in the wild can be a thrilling experience. Whether you’re a seasoned birder or just an owl enthusiast, Hawaii offers a unique opportunity to see these remarkable birds in their natural habitat. Happy birding!
Owls in Other States
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia