While our studies in Hawai’i focus on whales and dolphins, we have been attempting to photograph rare or uncommon species of seabirds since about 2003, and for most field projects we tally all seabird sightings. Over the years we’ve taken over 15,000 photos of seabirds. All of our seabird photos are sent to Peter Pyle of the Institute for Bird Populations for identification, and many have been included in the online Birds of the Hawaiian Islands. Unusual sightings and photographs are reported in the quarterly reports of North American Birds, and are also contributed to local birding communities. We’ve co-authored two papers with Peter on seabirds in Hawai‘i, one on Dark-rumped Petrels (Pterodroma phaeopygia/sandwichensis) and one on white-rumped dark storm petrels (i.e., Leach’s and Band-rumped Storm Petrels) in Hawaiian waters – copies can be downloaded below. As well as an important opportunity to document the seabird community in Hawai‘i, we also record information on seabirds interactions with various species of whales and dolphins. We’ve worked off Kona every year from 2002 through 2023, and off Kaua‘i in 15 different years between 2003 and 2023, so our ability to assess seabird seasonality and presence around the islands is greatest for those two areas, but we’ve also worked off Maui Nui in nine different years (between 2000 and 2020) and off O‘ahu in six different years (between 2002 and 2023), so have some information on seabirds off those areas. We present below photographs of most species of seabirds we have documented in Hawaiian waters, and at least one we haven’t photographed but hope to soon!
For more information contact Robin W. Baird at rwbaird (at) cascadiaresearch.org or see our Hawai‘i odontocete research page
Black-footed albatrosses associated with a false killer whale.
We’ve only documented one Northern Fulmar in all of our work, off Kona on 21 November 2004.
We’ve only obtained confirmed photos of Murphy’s Petrels on two occasions, both off Kona (on 20 December 2009 and 18 October 2010), but we’ve had photos that were probably Murphy’s Petrels on a number of other occasions off Kona (Sep 2004, December 2006, October 2009, December 2009, and October 2014).
We’ve only photographed Cook’s Petrels on two occasions, in November 2015 and October 2017, both off Hawai‘i Island.
We’ve seen Stejneger’s Petrel in five different years, in May 2008, May 2013, November 2014, November 2015, and October 2017, all off of Kona.
We’ve only seen Bonin’s Petrel on only a single occasion, 12 February 2015, off Kaua‘i.
We’ve seen Tahiti Petrel’s twice in all of our work, once off Kona on 14 November 2014, and once off Lāna‘i on 6 March 2017.
Wedge-tailed Shearwaters are by far the most frequently seen seabird in our work. Most days we see from a few to a few dozen, but occasionally we see up to hundreds of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters in a day.
Dark morph wedge-tailed shearwater.
We’ve only photographed Buller’s Shearwaters on 10 different days over the years, in October 2009, April 2010, May 2012, June 2012, August 2012, May 2014, and October 2017. All of our confirmed sightings of this species have been off Kona.
We’ve never had a confirmed sighting of a Christmas Shearwater, but they do breed on Lehua, a small island off the north tip of Ni‘ihau, so we’ve likely seen them but just mistaken them for dark-morph Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.
Ainley’s Storm Petrel is a recent split from Leach’s Storm Petrel. Ainley’s breeds off Mexico, and one way they can potentially be discriminated from Leach’s is by the timing of the molt, since they breed at a different time of year. This bird was seen in May 2012, and based on the molt has tentatively been identified as an Ainley’s Storm Petrel.
We’ve only documented Tristram’s Storm Petrel off Kaua’i, once on 16 February 2015 with a number of birds associated with two different whale carcasses floating off the north shore of Kaua’i, and twice in February 2020.
Nazca Boobies are relatively rare in Hawaiian waters – this bird was photographed off Kona 9 November 2015. We’ve also seen them off Kona in September and October 2023
Great Frigatebird chasing booby
We’ve photographed Parasitic Jaegers off Hawai‘i Island in October 2010, November 2014 and November 2015, but none of the photos are particularly good.
We’ve photographed South Polar Skuas in August 2007, July 2008, October 2009, and July 2011, 2013 and 2014. The largest group was three individuals sitting together off Kaua‘i in July 2011.
A Blue-gray Noddy seen on 9 December 2020 south of Lāna‘i, likely the first record for Maui County.
A Blue-gray Noddy seen off Kona 11 December 2010, the first record for Hawai‘i County.
We’ve seen Laughing Gulls in November 2006, December 2008 and 2009, April 2010, December 2010, May 2012, February 2014, and May 2021.
We’ve only seen Franklin’s Gulls twice, once in August 2007 off Kona and once in June 2008 off Kaua’i.
We’ve seen one Glaucous-winged Gull, a juvenile 21 November 2004, off of Kona
Some regional reports from North American Birds that include sightings and/or photographs from our surveys
- Winter 2020/2021
- Spring 2010
- Winter 2009/2010
- Winter 2008/2009
- Summer 2008
- Spring 2008
- Fall 2007
- Spring 2006
- Fall 2005
Lerma, J.K., D.L. Webster, R.W. Baird, and P. Pyle. 2022. 17-years of sightings of seabirds during small-boat surveys for cetaceans around the southeast Hawaiian Islands. Talk presented at the Pacific Seabird Group, 2022 meeting. See video below.
Pyle, P., D.L. Webster and R.W. Baird. 2016. White-rumped dark storm-petrels in Hawaiian Island waters – the quandary of Leach’s vs. Band-rumped storm petrels throughout the world. Birding 47(1):54-57. Download PDF copy
Pyle, P., D.L. Webster and R.W. Baird. 2011. Notes on petrels of the dark-rumped petrel complex (Pterodroma phaeopygia/sandwichensis) in Hawaiian waters. North American Birds 65(2):364-367. Download PDF copy
Walker, W.A., R.W. Baird, D.L. Webster, J.M. Aschettino, G.S. Schorr, D.J. McSweeney and S. Fitzgerald. 2013. Diurnal occurrence of dead mesopelagic fish and squid at the sea surface and their importance as a previously unrecognized predictable food resource for oceanic marine birds. Poster presented at the Pacific Seabird Group 40th Annual Meeting, Portland, Oregon. Download PDF copy