Looking to learn more about eagles in Hawaii? You’ve come to the right place. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: While not native to the islands, some eagle species do migrate through and winter in Hawaii each year. The most common visitors are the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive into the types of eagles that can be found in Hawaii, when and where they migrate through, their behaviors and habitats on the islands, if there are any resident populations, threats to their survival, and the cultural significance of eagles in Hawaiian history and mythology.

Eagle Species Spotted in Hawaii

Hawaii may be known for its stunning beaches and lush landscapes, but it is also home to several species of eagles. While eagles are typically associated with mainland North America, these magnificent birds have managed to find a home in the tropical paradise of Hawaii. Let’s take a closer look at three eagle species that have been spotted in the Hawaiian islands.

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle, the national bird and symbol of the United States, is not native to Hawaii. However, there have been occasional sightings of this iconic eagle species in the islands. These sightings are believed to be rare occurrences, with some suggesting that the birds may have been blown off course during migration. It is truly a sight to behold when the Bald Eagles grace the Hawaiian skies with their presence.

Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle is another species that has been observed in Hawaii. While they are more commonly found in the mountainous regions of North America, a few individuals have been spotted in the Hawaiian islands. These majestic birds are known for their impressive hunting skills and can be identified by their dark brown feathers and golden nape. Spotting a Golden Eagle soaring above the Hawaiian landscape is a truly remarkable experience.

Short-tailed Eagle

The Short-tailed Eagle, also known as the ‘io’ in Hawaiian, is a native species to the Hawaiian islands. It is the only species of eagle that is endemic to Hawaii. The ‘io’ is a small to medium-sized eagle with a distinctive short tail and a majestic dark plumage. The ‘io’ holds great cultural significance in Hawaiian mythology and is considered a symbol of royalty and spiritual power. Its presence is a reminder of the unique biodiversity found in Hawaii.

While these eagle species may be less common in Hawaii compared to other parts of the world, their occasional presence in the islands is a testament to the adaptability and resilience of these incredible birds. It is a privilege to witness these magnificent creatures in such a breathtaking setting.

Migration and Wintering Habits

Migration Flyways and Timing

Eagles are known for their remarkable ability to migrate over long distances, and this holds true for the eagles in Hawaii as well. These majestic birds follow specific flyways during their migration, which are essentially established routes that they navigate year after year. The timing of their migration is also quite fascinating. In Hawaii, eagles typically begin their migration in the late summer or early fall, coinciding with the start of their breeding season. They then travel thousands of miles to their wintering grounds, where they spend the colder months.

One of the remarkable aspects of eagle migration is their ability to navigate. These birds rely on a combination of visual cues, such as landmarks and celestial patterns, as well as their innate sense of direction to find their way. It’s truly awe-inspiring to think about how these creatures can embark on such long journeys and always find their way back to their wintering grounds.

Wintering Grounds and Behaviors

While the specific wintering grounds of eagles in Hawaii can vary, they often choose warmer climates where food is abundant. Many eagles migrate to the southern parts of the United States, including states like Texas, Florida, and California. These regions provide a suitable habitat and plenty of prey for the eagles to survive during the winter months.

During their time in the wintering grounds, eagles exhibit certain behaviors that are unique to this period. They engage in social interactions, forming large communal roosts where they can gather in large numbers. These roosts not only provide safety in numbers but also create a sense of community among the eagles. It’s truly a sight to behold, witnessing hundreds of eagles gathered together in one place.

In addition to socializing, eagles also spend a significant amount of time hunting for food during the winter. They rely on their exceptional vision and powerful talons to catch fish, small mammals, and even other birds. This period of intense feeding is crucial for their survival, as they need to build up sufficient energy reserves to sustain themselves until they embark on their return migration.


– Cornell Lab of Ornithology: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bald_Eagle/lifehistory

– U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: https://www.fws.gov/birds/surveys-and-data/migratory-bird-data/migration-patterns.php

Habitats and Feeding

Forests and Shores

Eagles in Hawaii can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests and shores. These majestic birds are often spotted soaring over the lush, green forests of the islands, where they build their nests high up in the trees. The forests provide them with ample space to hunt for prey and raise their young. Additionally, the shores of Hawaii serve as important feeding grounds for eagles. They can be seen diving down to catch fish or scavenging along the coastline for carrion.

Scavenging and Hunting

Eagles in Hawaii have adapted to their environment by developing a diverse feeding strategy. They are skilled scavengers and will often feed on carrion, such as dead animals or fish washed ashore. This scavenging behavior helps them take advantage of available food sources and ensures their survival in times when hunting may be challenging.

Despite their ability to scavenge, eagles in Hawaii are also formidable hunters. They have sharp, powerful talons and a keen sense of sight, allowing them to spot and capture prey with precision. Their diet consists of a wide range of animals, including fish, seabirds, and small mammals. They are even known to snatch small prey from the surface of the water while in flight.

According to a study conducted by the University of Hawaii, eagles in the state primarily rely on fish as their main food source, with an estimated 70% of their diet consisting of various fish species. This research also revealed that eagles play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem, as they control the populations of certain fish species.

For more information on the feeding habits of eagles in Hawaii, you can visit the Hawaii Eagle Count website, which provides valuable insights and data collected by researchers and bird enthusiasts.

Breeding and Nesting

No Known Breeding in Hawaii

When it comes to the breeding of eagles, Hawaii is not known to be a breeding ground for these majestic birds. Unlike other regions where eagles thrive and build their nests, such as North America and Europe, eagles have not been observed to breed in Hawaii. This could be due to a combination of factors, including the lack of suitable prey and nesting sites.

While it is unfortunate that eagles do not breed in Hawaii, it is important to note that this does not mean that they do not visit the islands. In fact, eagles can often be spotted soaring through the skies or perched on tree branches, especially during migration periods. These migratory eagles may use Hawaii as a stopover point before continuing their journey to other destinations.

Ideal Nesting Habitats

Although eagles do not breed in Hawaii, they still require suitable nesting habitats during their time on the islands. Ideal nesting habitats for eagles typically consist of tall trees that provide a clear view of the surrounding area, as well as protection from predators. These trees should also be located near bodies of water, as eagles primarily feed on fish and other aquatic prey.

Hawaii offers a diverse range of ecosystems, including forests, grasslands, and coastal areas, which can provide potential nesting sites for eagles. However, it is important to note that eagles are highly sensitive to disturbances and may abandon their nests if they feel threatened. Therefore, it is crucial to implement measures to protect and preserve these potential nesting habitats to ensure the well-being of the eagles that visit Hawaii.

For more information on eagle breeding and nesting habits, you can visit the National Eagle Center website, which provides valuable insights into the behavior and conservation of eagles.

Threats and Conservation

Eagles in Hawaii face several threats that have led to a decline in their population. These threats include habitat loss, lead poisoning, and other human activities. Understanding these threats is crucial for implementing effective conservation measures to protect these majestic birds.

Habitat Loss

Habitat loss is one of the major factors contributing to the decline of eagles in Hawaii. As urbanization and development continue to expand, the natural habitats of eagles are being destroyed or fragmented. Deforestation, agriculture, and invasive species are all contributing to the loss of suitable nesting and foraging areas for eagles.

A study conducted by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources found that nearly 80% of the Hawaiian Islands’ forest cover has been lost since human colonization. This loss of habitat directly impacts the survival and breeding success of eagles, as it limits their access to food sources and suitable nesting sites.

Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is another significant threat to eagles in Hawaii. Eagles are scavengers and often feed on carrion, including animals that have been shot by hunters using lead ammunition. The ingestion of lead fragments or lead-contaminated prey can lead to lead poisoning, which can be fatal for these birds.

A study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that lead poisoning was a leading cause of mortality in the endangered Hawaiian hawk, a close relative of the eagle. The study highlighted the need for stricter regulations on lead ammunition and increased education on the dangers of lead poisoning for wildlife.

Efforts to Protect Eagles

Various organizations and government agencies are working together to protect eagles in Hawaii and mitigate the threats they face. These efforts include habitat restoration projects, public awareness campaigns, and stricter regulations on hunting practices.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in collaboration with local conservation organizations, has implemented programs to restore and protect eagle habitats. These programs involve removing invasive species, planting native vegetation, and establishing protected areas for eagles to nest and forage.

Public awareness campaigns aim to educate the public about the importance of conserving eagles and the actions individuals can take to minimize threats. These campaigns emphasize the need for responsible hunting practices, proper disposal of lead ammunition, and the importance of preserving natural habitats.

Stricter regulations on hunting practices have also been implemented to reduce the risk of lead poisoning. Some states have banned the use of lead ammunition for hunting in areas where eagles are known to frequent. These regulations help reduce the potential for lead poisoning incidents and protect both eagles and other wildlife.

It is crucial that these conservation efforts continue and expand to ensure the long-term survival of eagles in Hawaii. By addressing the threats of habitat loss and lead poisoning, we can help protect these magnificent birds for generations to come.

Significance in Hawaiian Culture

Eagles hold a special place in Hawaiian culture, with their presence deeply intertwined with the island’s rich history and traditions. Let’s explore the different ways eagles are revered and celebrated in Hawaiian culture.

Legends and Mythology

In Hawaiian legends and mythology, eagles are often depicted as powerful and majestic creatures. One such legend is the story of the Naha Stone, a sacred stone believed to hold the power of the eagle. According to the legend, whoever could move the stone would possess the strength and wisdom of the eagle. This story symbolizes the importance of courage and determination, qualities associated with eagles.

Another mythological figure associated with eagles is the Hawaiian god Kāne. Kāne is often depicted with an eagle perched on his shoulder, representing his connection to the divine and his ability to soar to great heights. This symbolism highlights the eagle’s association with spirituality and transcendence.

Use in Art and Symbolism

Eagles are a popular subject in Hawaiian art and symbolism, with their imagery found in various forms of traditional and contemporary artwork. The eagle’s image is often used to represent strength, freedom, and protection. It is not uncommon to see eagle motifs incorporated into intricate carvings, paintings, and even tattoos.

Additionally, eagles are frequently used as a symbol of leadership and power in Hawaiian culture. Their ability to soar high above the ground is seen as a metaphor for the qualities of a strong and wise leader. This symbolism is often depicted in traditional Hawaiian regalia, such as feathered capes and helmets worn by chiefs and warriors.


To wrap up, while eagles are not endemic to Hawaii, a few species make their seasonal homes on the islands each winter. Their migrations, behaviors, and cultural significance make them a unique part of Hawaii’s diverse ecosystems and heritage. With continued conservation efforts, we can ensure future generations have the chance to see these majestic raptors soaring above Hawaii’s landscapes.

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