Learn About Seabirds

O‘ahu used to be home for at least 18 seabird species, with individuals ranging in the millions. Fossils found on the Ewa plains record that it was covered with seabirds. Today, with coastal development, human activities, invasive plants, and predators such as feral dogs, cats, and rats, O‘ahu’s seabirds face many challenges and have been greatly reduced in numbers. To learn more about seabirds, read on!

Let us know too if there is any other information you think would be helpful to share by contacting us at oahuseabirdgroup@gmail.com.

Brewster’s Brown Booby

Why Seabirds are Cool

  • A parent albatross may fly more than 10,000 miles to find food and deliver it to its chick.  That’s the equivalent of flying from Honolulu to Cape Town, South Africa!
  • Seabirds are among the most diverse and widely distributed of all birds. They can be found foraging in polar ice at both ends of the earth.
  • Wing spans range from 1 to 12 feet (almost twice the height of the tallest basketball player).
  • Seabirds can weigh from one ounce (half an English muffin) to 20 pounds (a toddler).
  • Nesting sites of seabirds include extreme habitats such as Antarctic icebergs, the tops of mountains, tundra, and remote islands.
  • Frigatebirds can soar for two months straight and sleep while in flight.  One bird soared for 40 miles without a single wing-flap! Part of the reason for this is that their feathers aren’t waterproof so they can’t rest on the ocean like other seabirds do – they would drown.

Individual Seabird Fact Sheets (including their biology, threats, and conservation needs)

These birds are currently found on O‘ahu, including the offshore islets, in nesting or roosting habitat:

Though not yet established on land with nest sites or roosting colonies, these birds have been seen flying about O‘ahu and are part of the Hawaiian seabird community and surrounding marine ecosystems:

These birds were once on O‘ahu, but are not found today:

Cultural Significance

The bottom of this kahili, associated with Princess Victoria Kamamalu, is trimmed with black frigate bird feathers. Bishop Museum.

The bottom of this kahili, which can be seen at Bishop Museum, is trimmed with black frigatebird feathers and is associated with Princess Victoria Kamamalu.

Seabirds were used by Native Hawaiians for navigation.  They also alerted fishermen to schools of fish (and still do today). Native Hawaiians also observed seabird behavior to indicate changing weather patterns. Seabirds were harvested for food for the ali‘i and feathers used in kahili, lei hulu, and capes. Seabirds are also tied to Hawaiian beliefs and practices. For example, the great frigatebird or ‘iwa is associated with the goddess Kaiona of Mt. Ka‘ala on O‘ahu.  The Laysan albatross and the black-footed albatross are both kinolau of Lono and hang on the Lono image during Makahiki.

Agencies and Organizations Supporting Seabird Work on O‘ahu

Laws and Permits

Seabird Colony

Great frigatebirds and a red footed booby


There are several state and federal laws protecting seabirds as well as permits related to interactions with seabirds.  This can include handling them, disturbing them, possession (including feathers and eggs), and interfering with their breeding or nesting and rearing of young.


  • Two seabirds are listed under the Endangered Species Act, a federal law.  They are the Newell’s shearwater and Hawaiian Petrel. For any activities or actions that might impact these species (including research), you will need to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the proper permitting process.  Please call 808-792-9400 for more information or visit their consultation and habitat conservation planning program website.
  • All seabirds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), a federal law. This law makes any activities which would result in possession or harm of a seabird illegal unless authorized by a federal permit. For guidance about this law, please contact Jenny Hoskins with the Migratory Birds and Habitat Programs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (jenny_hoskins@fws.gov). Or visit the USFWS migratory bird website where you can find information on how to avoid impacts to seabirds.
  • Seabirds are protected in Hawai‘i Administrative Rules Chapter 13-124 Indigenous Wildlife, Endangered And Threatened Wildlife, and Introduced Wild Birds and in Chapter 13-126 Rules Regulating Wildlife Sanctuaries.  For questions, please contact the Division of Forestry and Wildlife’s O‘ahu branch at 808-973-9777.
  • The State of Hawai‘i DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife has a Federal Bird Banding Permit (08487), which allows named individuals to band and handle seabirds.

Books, articles, news, conservation plans, teacher resources

A gray backed tern

A gray backed tern

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