Common Questions

Here are some common questions about seabirds that we hope you find useful. If you have other questions you’d like to ask, feel free to email us at

  • I found a seabird that looks injured.  What should I do?

    Wedge-tailed shearwater

    Wedge-tailed shearwater

Most times, the seabird is just temporarily disorientated or may simply be resting near a nest and will be fine if left alone. However, after observing the bird for 10 minutes and it seems in distress, you can call the Hawai‘i State Division of Forestry and Wildlife at 808-973-9777, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 808-792-9400, or the Hawai‘i Wildlife Center, who can answer questions and provide guidance 7 days a week from 9am-5pm. They are located on Hawai‘i Island and you can call them at 808-884-5000. Visit two places on their website for more information: How to rescue an injured bird and Seabird fallout response. If you cannot speak to a person directly, injured seabirds can be taken to Feather and Fur Veterinary Clinic in Kailua where they will be transferred to the appropriate facility.

A licensed veterinarian can also provide emergency care for up to 24 hours, and under federal law (Migratory Bird Treaty Act) there is a “good Samaritan” provision which allows an individual to possess a wild bird just long enough to transport it to a rehabilitator or veterinarian for medical care. However, note that veterinarians my require payment.

If you are advised to take the seabird to another location, quietly approach the bird and gently pick it up by placing a towel, t-shirt, or small sheet over the bird. Be careful of the beak as these birds can bite. Place it in a container with a lid (e.g., well-ventilated, clean, dry – can be a cardboard box, plastic tub or dog/cat carrier large enough for the bird to comfortably sit or stand) with a towel or soft cloth (like a t-shirt) on the bottom. Keep the container in a quiet, cool, and shady/dark place.  Do not try to give it food or water. If you have handled the bird with no gloves, wash your hands afterwards.

  • What are seabirds?

Seabirds spend most of their lives at sea (sometimes years!) and only return to land to breed. Their bodies and behaviors have been adapted for foraging across wide expanses of ocean, from the way they fly to the way they raise their young. They are often long lived (20-60 years), reach breeding age late (some at 10 years), lay only one egg, have an extended period of time raising young (up to 6 months), and are larger than land birds with less colorful feathers and coloring that doesn’t distinguish between males and females. To learn more, visit our Learn About Seabirds page.

  • Why should I care about seabirds?

Aside from the fact that they’re really cool, seabirds provide a lot of value to people in many ways.  They help fishermen find fish, fertilize soils with their guano, are linked with Native Hawaiian traditions and culture, and are one of the few species that depend on both land and marine habitats for their life so they are great indicators of health for these places that we rely on too (e.g., fisheries, climate change).

  • Where can I see seabirds?

There are several places on the island to see seabirds.  Visit the Seabirds Need Your Help page to find information on locations.

Often times though, it’s just a matter of looking up in the sky:

-Great frigatebirds have been seen soaring above even urban areas such as Kaimuki and Mo‘ili‘ili in Honolulu.

-Laysan albatross and boobies can be seen flying around Turtle Bay on the North Shore.

-White terns can be seen flying around downtown Honolulu.

-Several seabirds can be seen from the Makapu‘u Lighthouse.

-While many offshore islands of O‘ahu are closed to the public, a few of them are open with access restricted to the perimeter (Mokulua, Popoi‘a, Kapapa, Moku‘auia). Closed islands have a greater diversity of species, due to protection from disturbance, and can be viewed from O‘ahu with a spotting scope or binoculars.

Seabirds in the sky

  • I’ve hooked a seabird with my fishing gear.  What should I do?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has produced a brochure called A Fisherman’s Guide to Hawaii’s Seabirds which has information on what to do.

  •  Who do I call if I think someone is hurting a seabird?

Seabirds are protected under both federal and state laws.  If you see an activity that might be harming a seabird you can call either the State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement at 808-643-3567 or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Law Enforcement Office Pacific Islands at 808-861-8525 or by emailing

  • I found an oiled seabird.  What do I do?

Do not touch wildlife that may be contaminated.  You can call the state’s DLNR, Division of Forestry and Wildlife at 808-587-0166, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 808-792-9461, or the Hawaii Wildlife Center at 808-884-5000 or email them at

  • I am trimming my trees and there is a white tern nest in the tree. What do I do?
White tern with chick

White tern with chick

For more specific information on all White Tern nests on Oahu, go to White terns are protected by State law and by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. All tree trimming in areas known to support white tern nesting should be done between August and January to minimize disturbance.   If tree trimming must be conducted during the nesting season or if you inadvertently impact a nest, please contact either the Division of Forestry and Wildlife (808-973-9777) or Jenny Hoskins with the Migratory Birds and Habitat Programs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ( for guidance. The area should be monitored and surveyed by a qualified Wildlife Biologist.

  • What should I look for to know if a white tern is nesting in my tree?

Trees targeted for trimming should be observed for 15-20 minutes depending on the level of knowledge the surveyor has, and the size of the tree.  Surveyors should have a background in seabird surveying techniques or have been trained by appropriate agency personnel.  The surveyor should look for:

  1. Pairs of birds in or around the tree
  2. Birds sitting on branches during the day
  3. Chicks sitting on branches
  4. Adult birds around trees with food in possession
  5. Visible eggs.

If any one of these activities is observed, operations should be postponed.

  • When do white terns nest? And do they use the same nests?

Nesting season for white terns runs from late January through June, although year round nesting does occur.  The season usually peaks March through April. In general, birds seen during this time are most likely pairing up or establishing nesting territories.  Birds often utilize the same trees for nesting, and it is common to have multiple occurrences of nesting in a single tree.

White tern eggs are laid directly on surfaces, such as a branch, without nest construction.  This makes finding eggs very difficult in tall trees or trees with large canopies.  The eggs are also extremely vulnerable to disturbance, and are sometimes knocked off by wind, spooked adult birds, other birds, etc.

  • I understand that lightening can confuse seabirds.  What can I do with my lights?

Visit the Kauai Seabird Habitat Conservation Program for specific actions you can take to minimize lightening.

  • Why don’t I see seagulls?

Gulls are primarily scavengers so they are found mostly along continental coasts and shallow inland waters where there is sufficient food. They cannot feed in the open ocean like albatrosses and terns. Tropical islands are mostly mountaintops surrounded by the ocean. They have no coastal shelf or rocky coastal areas and therefore do not provide the habitat or food source that gulls prefer. Seagulls are sometimes visitors to Hawai‘i, but they do not stay and become residents.

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