Photo by Nathan Banfield, KESRP

Meet the Birds

Photo by André Raine, KESRP




Puffinus newelli

Audio recordings by David Kuhn of SoundsHawaiian


Federal: Threatened

State: Threatened

IUCN Red List: Endangered​​​​​​​

The threatened ‘a‘o has a very distinctive call that sounds like a braying donkey, which can be heard in many places on Kauaʻi just after sunset. Recognized by the IUCN Red List as Endangered​​, the Newell's shearwater is a long-lived, highly pelagic, deep-diving seabird which relies heavily on tuna and other large, predatory fish that drive prey up the water column. Breeding occurs from April - November, with pairs raising a single chick in a chamber at the end of a deep burrow, fledging in the fall. Often confused with the coastal-nesting wedge-tailed shearwater (see below), the Newell's breeds in extremely rough, heavily vegetated, steep terrain, where access by humans is difficult at best. Once widespread in the Main Hawaiian Islands, the population range has been reduced to a few remnant upper-montane breeding colonies due to predation from introduced mammals, power line collisions, and fallout from light attraction, with over 90% of the population only on Kaua‘i.

--Excerpts from Birds of North America and KESRP

Photo by André Raine, KESRP




Pterodroma sandwichensis


Federal: Endangered

State: Endangered

IUCN Red List: Vulnerable​​​​​​​

The ‘ua‘u is an endangered seabird that ranges across much of the tropical Pacific, but nests only at high elevations of five islands: Hawaiʻi, Maui, Kauaʻi, Lanaʻi, and Molokaʻi. The name Pterodroma is derived from the Greek words pteron, which refers to feathers or wings, and dromos, which refers to a racecourse or any quick movement. The Hawaiian petrel once nested on all of the Main Hawaiian Islands. Historically common, its populations were decimated by humans who prized the birds as a delicacy, and by predators that were introduced during the past centuries. Breeding occurs from March - December. Hawaiian petrels depend on sparse and widely dispersed food resources, which dictate a conservative reproductive strategy marked by late maturity, low replacement rates, and long life spans. A recent study conducted by U.S. Geological Survey found that adult birds fly over 6,000 miles in one trip to collect food for their growing chick! Active management of the remaining populations will be required to prevent the extinction of this species.

--Excerpts from Birds of North America and KESRP

Photo by Tracy Anderson, SOS




Oceanodroma castro


Federal: Endangered

State: ​​​​​​​Endangered

IUCN Red List: Least Concern

In the United States, the ‘ake‘ake breeds only in the Hawaiian Archipelago, where it is the rarest and smallest breeding seabird. Exact locations for most colonies are still unknown, though evidence suggests that some exist high on Hawaiian volcanoes (from about 2,400-3,350 m), and along the Nā Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon on Kaua‘i.  As is typical of other storm-petrels, they often “tap dance” along the water with their feet and flap their wings just above wave crests.  This allows them to scoop up prey with their bill at, or just below the surface of the sea. The band-rumped storm-petrel is not considered threatened worldwide, but is a candidate for listing in the U.S. because of its very small population size in Hawai‘i. In Hawai‘i, breeding is thought to occur from April - October. Due to the difficulty in studying this species, the number of birds breeding in Hawai‘i is currently unknown but is thought to be in the low hundreds. Its vocalization has been described as sounding “exactly like a wet finger rubbed hard on a windowpane".

--Excerpts from Birds of North America and KESRP


Each year, native shearwaters return to the Hawaiian Islands to breed. Few of us are aware that there are actually two shearwater species nesting on the island of Kaua‘i.  These are the wedge-tailed shearwater (Ardenna pacifica), which is common along the coast, and the Newell’s shearwater (Puffinus newelli), which nests mainly in the mountains at high elevation and is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.​ Although Newell's account for the majority of fallout​, the overlapping breeding seasons can result in wedge-tails being mistaken for Newell's at their nest sites.

The Newell’s shearwater, or ‘a‘o, named for its distinct call that sounds something like a small braying donkey, is endangered according to the IUCN Red List - the global database for species conservation.  Kauai is a stronghold for this species.  According to Dr André Raine of the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, “With over 90% of the World population of this endangered species, Kaua’i holds the vast majority of the breeding population of this shearwater.  Because of this, it is here on Kaua’i where we have the best hope of preventing this beautiful seabird from going extinct.”

The breeding season for Newell’s begins in late March and continues into November. After spending the day fishing at sea, Newell’s can be heard half an hour after sunset and well before dawn making their nightly flights from sea to their upper montane nests and back. Breeding adults take turns incubating a single egg, then foraging for food once the chick hatches and needs to be fed. Earlier in the season, young birds return to their original colonies to prospect for nest territories of their own, and between September and November, chicks of the year make their maiden voyage to sea, earning their title as fledglings.  They will then remain at sea for 2-3 years before returning to look for their own nest sites. For this reason, because of collisions, and because of their attraction to bright artificial lights, Newell’s shearwaters are at highest risk for fallout because during the breeding season they are constantly transiting makai to mauka, mauka to makai.​ 

An ‘ua‘u kani, or wedge-tailed shearwater, peering out from its coastal burrow. Photo by André Raine, KESRP.

An ‘a‘o, or Newell's shearwater, swimming in the Save Our Shearwaters waterproofing pool. Photo by Tracy Anderson, SOS.

Yuki Reiss, Project coordinator for the Kaua‘i Seabird Habitat Conservation Program, emphasizes: “We need to all remember to minimize unnecessary lighting during the seabird nesting season. Lights pointing towards the sky or out to sea will attract seabirds and put them in harm’s way.” Since 1979, Save Our Shearwaters (SOS) has rehabilitated and released nearly 30,000 seabirds, mainly ‘a‘o, thanks to the kokua of concerned citizens like you. If you find a seabird and are unsure what to do, please do not hesitate to call the SOS hotline at (808) 635-5117. Mahalo!​

During the fledging season for Newell’s shearwater, juvenile birds are regularly attracted to artificial light sources, which they circle until they either collide with structures like buildings or become exhausted and then fall to the ground. This is called “fall-out” and happens predominantly in October. Concerned citizens then collect birds that they find and hand them over to SOS, or Save Our Shearwaters. 

Saving fledgling Newell’s Shearwater is a great way for citizens to get involved in protecting these rare seabirds. Understanding how to distinguish between wedge-tailed and Newell’s shearwaters can arm you with the information to make the right call next time you find a seabird that may need your help.

​The easiest way to tell these two seabirds apart is by feather coloration and pattern, or plumage. The Newell’s shearwater is black on top and white beneath, with a clean and distinct edge to its black markings along the face and neck.  It also has a white “thumb-print” on either side of its flanks. Wedge-tailed shearwaters, or “wedgies”, can be found in two morphs, a light morph and a dark morph, but all wedgies are grey. Typically, wedgies seen on Kaua‘i are light-morphs, with dark-grey on top, light-grey below, and no distinct edge but rather a shaded gradient from dark to light grey along the face and neck. Wedgie feet are all pink while Newell’s feet are pink with black along the edges and toes. Although wedge-tailed shearwaters are larger than Newell’s, they are close enough in size that it is generally not a reliable way to determine species without a side-by-side comparison.

Newell's shearwater:

  • Plumage black & white; clean lines
  • Feet pink with black edges & toes
  • Bill thin, black, tube nostrils, small point
  • Vocalization shrill; miniature braying donkey
  • Nests in mountains at high elevation

Wedge-tailed shearwater:

  • Plumage grey; dark to light shading
  • Feet all pink; flesh-colored
  • Bill thick, dark grey, tube nostrils, sharp point
  • Vocalization low; moaning, cooing, wailing, or crying
  • Nests on coastal beach and cliffside

From March to November, the Wedge-tailed shearwater, or ‘ua‘u kani, returns to coastal burrows around the island to breed. Sometimes called “moaning birds” wedge-tailed shearwaters make a strange wailing or crying sound when settling into their colonies for the night. They are quite common in Hawai‘i and the tropical Pacific, and can easily be seen this time of year at various locations along the South and North shores, such as Maha‘ulepu Beach and Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. Because these birds nest in the sand and along rocky cliffs, their burrows may not be easily spotted by the human eye; however, outdoor cats and dogs off-leash can use their keen sense of smell to find and destroy entire colonies within minutes, so if you are near a beach, it is critical to keep cats indoors and always be sure to have your dog on a leash.

That's great, but what about Hawaiian green turtles​?