18+ White Birds In Hawaii (Photos + Fun Facts)

Living in Hawaii and saw some white birds but are not sure which ones they were? 

According to some estimates, there are over 330 species of birds in that state. 

29 are endemic to the islands, 130 are vagrants, and 52 were introduced by humans.

Examples of white birds in Hawaii include the beautiful white tern, little tern, cattle egret, sanderling, bufflehead, red and white-tailed tropicbirds, arctic tern, and many others.

Some of them, like the Hawaiian stilt, are endemic to Hawaii, while others, like the red-crested cardinal and yellow-billed cardinal, got introduced to the state.

Here are 18 white-colored birds together with their photos and some fun facts.

White Birds In Hawaii

White Tern

white terns

Scientific name: Gygis alba
Lifespan: up to 42 years
Wingspan: 30–34 in
Color: Snow white
Range In Hawaii: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

This small seabird, also known as the white fairy tern, has entirely white plumage, a slightly forked tail, and a black bill with a blue base.

White tern is native to Hawaii and goes by the name manu-o-Kū there. This translates to “the bird of Ku.” Ku is the god of war in Hawaiian mythology.

You will most likely find the white tern in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Look for it nesting on coral islands, around trees with small branches, rocky ledges, and man-made structures. The white tern is restricted to Oahu on the south shore when it comes to the main islands. 

It is a carnivore that feeds on squids and small fish which it catches by plunge-diving.

In the past, sailors would look for white terns to navigate them towards the land – white fairy terns will fly out to sea in the morning to feed and then return to land at night.

The white tern is the official bird of Honolulu since 2007.


Little Tern

little terns

Scientific name: Sternula albifrons
Lifespan: 12 years
Wingspan: 16.1-18.5 in
Color: White-gray
Range In Hawaii: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Little tern is a tiny, delicate-looking tern that has a black cap with a white forehead, yellow legs, and a thin sharp bill that is yellow with a black tip.

This white bird can be seen on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where it is an occasional non-breeding visitor and rare breeder. Look for a bird with a distinct contrast between the gray back and white upper tail coverts.

Just like the white tern, the little tern will plunge dive to catch fish. It breeds in colonies on gravel or shingle coasts and islands where it lays two to four eggs on the ground.

As part of the courtship ritual, male little terns will carry fish to attract females. The females will then chase them high up into the sky and the males will then descend at a glide with their wings forming a ‘V’ shape.


Red-tailed Tropicbird

red-tailed tropicbird
Gedstrom at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name: Phaethon rubricauda
Lifespan: 16-23 years
Wingspan: 44-47 in
Color: All-white
Range In Hawaii: Kure, Midway, Laysan, and Lisianski islands

These all-white birds have four large breeding colonies in the Hawaiian Islands of Kure, Midway, Laysan, and Lisianski, and one on Johnston Atoll to the southwest. Some smaller groups of red-tailed tropicbirds will breed on several other islands in the Hawaiian chain.

Red-tailed tropicbirds are easy to spot by their all-white plumage, black masks, and red beaks. As the name suggests, adult birds have red tail streamers that are about twice their body length.

Red-tailed tropicbirds hunt by plunge-diving. They can go up to 15 ft deep, stay around 26 seconds there, and swallow their prey before coming back to the surface.

Their courting ritual consists of two or more birds performing impressive vertical, backward somersaulting circles, all the while emitting harsh squawks.

Scientists estimate that there are around 13,000 breeding pairs of red-tailed tropicbirds found across all of the islands in the Northwestern Chain and around 1,000 pairs around small colonies on all of the Southeastern Hawaiian Islands.

Red-tailed tropicbirds are known as Koa’e’ula in Hawaii.


White-tailed Tropicbird

white-tailed tropicbird
Dunog, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name: Phaethon lepturus
Lifespan: 10-13 years
Wingspan: 37 in
Color: Mostly pearl white
Range In Hawaii: Southeastern Hawaiian islands

White-tailed tropicbird is one of the prettiest white birds in Hawaii. It is mostly found in the Southeastern Hawaiian islands, with an estimated population of 1,500 breeding pairs in total. About half of their Hawaiian population breeds on Kauaʻi.

White-tailed tropicbird is slender, mainly pearl white bird with a black band on the inner wing. It also has a black eye mask and an orange-yellow beak.

Read More: 30+ birds that have orange bills

In Hawaii, the white-tailed tropicbird is known as Koa’e’kea. It is common throughout the year and can be often seen from boats or the shore.

White-tailed tropicbirds are similar to red-tailed tropicbirds – the main difference is the bill color, pure white back, and black wing bars of white-tailed ones.

They will often hover above the water to detect the prey and dive from 65 ft to catch it. White-tailed tropicbirds feed on flying fish, squid, and crabs.


Masked Booby

masked booby
pjd1, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name: Sula dactylatra
Lifespan: up to 25 years
Wingspan: 63–67 in
Color: Bright white
Range In Hawaii: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

In Hawaii, masked boobies can be seen in the Northwest Chain and around the main islands, especially at Makapu’u Point and in offshore waters of Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island.

These large seabirds have mostly white color, black trailing edge on their wings, black tails, and dark masks at the base of the yellow beaks.

With a length of up to 33 in and a wingspan of up to 67 in, these bright white birds are the largest species of booby.

Masked boobies are unique since they lack a brood patch and instead incubate the eggs with their webbed feet.


Red-footed Booby

red footed boobies
Gsh1967, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name: Sula sula
Lifespan: 20 years
Wingspan: 60 in
Color: All white
Range In Hawaii: Southeastern and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

The smallest of all booby species, red-footed boobies are easily identified by their red feet and blue beaks. They can be all white with blackish on the wing with some individuals being entirely dark brown.

Red-footed boobies are the most common booby species in Hawaiian waters. Some experts estimate that there are around 7,500 breeding pairs at colonies in most of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and about 5,000 breeding pairs divided between colonies on Kaʻula Rock, Lehua Islet, Kauaʻi, and Oʻahu.

You will find these large birds in the Southeastern Hawaiian Islands year-round; in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, they breed mostly during spring and summer.

Similar to masked boobies, red-footed ones do not have bare skin on the underbelly (brooding patch) to keep the eggs warm. Instead, they have to use their webbed feet, which have an increased blood supply.

Adult red-footed boobies with white morph are the most common all-white seabirds in Hawaii.


Cattle Egret

cattle egret

Scientific name: Bubulcus ibis
Lifespan: 16-23 years
Wingspan: 3 ft
Color: White
Range In Hawaii: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

A cattle egret is a small heron with short legs, a thick neck, and a dull orange bill and legs. This white bird got its name for the habit of following cattle and other large animals. 

The cattle egret was first introduced to Hawaii in 1959 with 105 birds released across the islands. They have spread extremely well ever since. Their numbers increased from around 3,000-4,000 birds in the 1970s to over 30,000 by 1981.

Adults are easy to recognize by their white plumage that becomes golden on their heads, chests, and backs during the breeding period. 

These white Hawaiian birds with long necks can be often seen in large groups, usually near ponds. Look for their perfect “V” formation as they fly in flocks.

Some populations of cattle egret are highly-migratory and will move to North Africa and Asia during the winter.

They feed on land insects, worms, frogs, lizards, and small mammals.

In Hawaii, these nest predators are also considered pests.

Cattle egrets will prey on the nests of the Hawaiian duck (koloa), Hawaiian stilt (aeo), Hawaiian common moorhen (alae ula), and the Hawaiian coot (alae keokeo).


Short-tailed Albatross

short-tailed albatross

Scientific name: Phoebastria albatrus
Lifespan: 40 years
Wingspan: 85–91 in
Color: White and gold yellow
Range In Hawaii: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

The short-tailed albatross is the largest seabird in Hawaii with a body length of up to 37 inches and an average wingspan of 7.5 feet. 

Wildlife experts estimate a global population of around 4,000 short-tailed albatrosses. In Hawaii, a very small number of these birds nest on Midway Atoll and Kure Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

You will recognize adults by their overall white-colored plumage with black flight feathers, and black terminal bars on their tails. Short-tailed albatrosses also have yellow-stained napes and crowns, and large and pink beaks that get a blue tip as birds get older.

They mostly feed on fish, squid, shrimp, and fish eggs, and will follow ships for their discarded offal.


Sanderling

sanderling

Scientific name: Calidris alba
Lifespan: 13 years
Wingspan: 14-17 in
Color: White and light gray
Range In Hawaii: Shores of Hawaiian Islands

After spending summer in the Far North, Hawaii’s smallest seabirds return to the state – sanderlings spend winter in the Hawaiian Islands.

You will recognize them by their overall white color, pale gray backs, and black beaks and legs. 

Sanderlings are commonly found wadding in small groups in mudflats and along the shore, looking for small insects and shellfish.

Sanderlings are mostly monogamous and become very aggressive and territorial during breeding time. 

This small white bird is known as the Hunakai in Hawaii. 


Bufflehead

bufflehead

Scientific name: Bucephala albeola
Lifespan: 2.5 years 
Wingspan: 22 in
Color: White and black
Range In Hawaii: Shores of the Hawaiian Islands

Bufflehead is a small sea duck with a white body, black back, glossy black-green head, and a large white patch at the back of the head.

Some individuals might end up in Hawaii as part of their migration. Bufflehead might spend winter in small parts of the Oahu, Maui, Hawaii Island, Kauai, Lanai, and Molokai. 

You will find this small diving bird spending half the time underwater while foraging. Look for a gray bill and pink legs and feet.

Buffleheads are monogamous birds, staying with the same partner for many years. They are omnivorous and feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and some plants.


Semipalmated Plover

semipalmated plover
ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name: Charadrius semipalmatus
Lifespan: up to 9 years
Wingspan: 14-22 in
Color: White and brown
Range In Hawaii: Northwestern and Southeastern Hawaiian Islands

The most semipalmated plovers can be found in the Southeastern Hawaiian Islands; there is also a smaller population in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They can be found around winter in the state and are mostly restricted to wetland habitats.

Semipalmated plovers are easy to recognize by the white color of their underparts, brown upperparts, black around the eyes, and short orange beaks with black tips. Their feet are orange.

Semipalmated plovers got their name due to the partial webbing on their feet.

They feed on insects, crustaceans, and worms, and will perform a “broken-wing” display to lure intruders away from the nest.


Franklin’s Gull

franklin's gull
ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name: Leucophaeus pipixcan
Lifespan: 9 years
Wingspan: 33.5-37.4 in
Color: White and gray
Range In Hawaii: Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island

This small and delicate gull can be seen on the islands of Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island. Just like other gulls, Franklin’s gull does not breed in the state – it is only a winter visitor of the islands.

Adults have white color, dark gray backs and wings, and red bills and legs.

Franklin’s gulls are omnivores and they got the name after the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin.


Ring-billed Gull

ring-billed gull

Scientific name: Larus delawarensis
Lifespan: 11 years
Wingspan: 41.3-46.1 in
Color: White and clean gray
Range In Hawaii: Northwestern Hawaii Islands

The ring-billed gull is a medium-sized gull with a white body and gray wings. Small populations might winter on the islands of Kauai and Oahu. 

Ring-billed gulls got their name for the dark rings on their relatively short bills.

They are often called the “fast food gulls” because they can be often seen around fast-food restaurants scavenging for food. Ring-billed gulls are omnivores and also feed on insects, fish, grain, eggs, earthworms, and rodents.

They will nests in colonies generally on small islands and lay three eggs that both parents incubate.  


Herring Gull

herring gull

Scientific name: Larus argentatus
Lifespan: up to 50 years
Wingspan: 47-61 in
Color: White gray
Range In Hawaii: Very small

This large gull can grow up to 26 inches.

Herring gulls do not breed in Hawaii but some will occasionally visit the state. They might be spotted around Hawaii’s limited mudflats and wetlands.

You will identify them by their massive beaks with a red spot on the lower mandible and pink legs. Herring gulls have white plumage with gray backs and wings and black wingtips with white spots

These birds are omnivores, primarily scavengers (like other gulls). They feed on invertebrates, fish, insects, carrion, and human refuse. Herring gulls can be often seen dropping clams and mussels from a height on hard surfaces to open them. 

Herring gulls are also one of the largest birds that can be seen in Ohio.


Arctic Tern

arctic tern

Scientific name: Sterna paradisaea
Lifespan: 15-30 years
Wingspan: 25-30 in
Color: White and pale gray
Range In Hawaii: Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island

Arctic terns are small white birds found in Hawaii. They are slender, gray-and-white, and have narrow wings, short legs, and black caps.

Arctic terns have long and deeply forked tails that are white with grey outer webs. 

These terns are small but mighty flyers, well known for their long-distance migrations. 

Arctic terns migrate from pole to pole, traveling over 25,000 miles each year. They do not breed in Hawaii but can be spotted around several northern islands during their migration.

They are carnivores (piscivores) and feed on small fish, crayfish, and some insects.


Red-crested Cardinal 

red-crested cardinal

Scientific name: Paroaria coronata
Lifespan: 3-6 years in the wild
Wingspan: 10–12 in
Color: White, black, and red
Range In Hawaii: Kauai, Niihau, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, Lanai, and Kahoolawe island

Red-crested cardinals are songbirds native to South America that got introduced in Hawaii in the 1930s.

Unmistakable with their bright red crests and throats, gray backs, and white underparts, red-crested cardinals can be found throughout the year on many Hawaiian islands (Kauai, Niihau, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, Lanai, and Kahoolawe).

They are common in the lowlands of the main Hawaiian islands so look for them in parks, lawns, and open dry forests where they like to feed on seeds, insects, plants, and fruits.


Yellow-billed Cardinal

yellow-billed cardinal
Bernard DUPONT from FRANCECC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific name: Paroaria capitata
Lifespan: n/a
Wingspan: n/a
Color: White, black, and red
Range In Hawaii: the Big Island of Hawaii

Native to South America, the yellow-billed cardinal got introduced to Hawaii around the 1960s. This small bird is easy to recognize by the bright red head, yellow beak, black upperparts, white underparts, black chin and throat, and brown-pink legs and feet.

Look for yellow-billed cardinals across the Big Island of Hawaii, around parking lots, short grassy fields, and in shrubby areas. They can be seen throughout the year in the state.


Hawaiian Black-necked Stilt

black necked stilt

Scientific name: Himantopus mexicanus knudseni
Lifespan: 12-20 years
Wingspan: 28-30 in
Color: Glossy black and white
Range In Hawaii: On all major Hawaiian islands

The Hawaiian black-necked stilt is an endangered Hawaiian subspecies of the black-necked stilt.  This delicately-looking shorebird can be seen on all the main Hawaiian islands and there are still breeding populations on Maui, O’ahu, and Kaua’i.

Black-necked stilt has a striking white plumage that is black above, rosy pink legs, and a long thin black bill.

Black-necked stilts got their Latin name as a reference to their long and thin legs. They also go under the name aeʻo in Hawaii.

These birds will often wade in shallow waters in search of marine invertebrates and insects. 

Black-necked stilts are gregarious birds that often roost in small groups but spread out while foraging. 

If you are trying to hear them, listen for a short, squeaky, repetitious yip-yip-yip call. 

Females will lay 3-5 eggs and both partners will take turns and incubate the eggs. After hatching, the young can be seen swimming within two hours.

Read More: 25+ common birds of Western Pennsylvania


Summary

This concludes our list of white birds in Hawaii. 

There are plenty of types of white-colored birds in HI, including gulls, terns, tropicbirds, albatrosses, and many others. 

Hawaii has large areas of different natural habitats that make great homes for a wide range of bird species, especially the white-colored ones. 

Next time, should you see these birds in person, you should be able to recognize any of them with ease! 

And if you enjoyed our article, here are other popular reads on birds: 2 types of loons that can be seen in Michigan and 18+ examples of big birds in Texas

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