The revered Hawaiian sub-species of short-eared owls is known as Pueo. Out of respect, and by tradition, we never point at them when seeing these beautiful raptors in flight.
Owls are all about legend and folklore and have been for centuries. They have a special place in Hawaiian mythology. It is said that they rescue souls from the underworld and safely guide armies. Legend has it that the God Kāne became an owl once to protect the Hawaiian people.
Hawaiian owls are on the endangered list. They are believed to have arrived in the Hawaiian Islands at least 1,000 years ago and their existence here is thought tied to the rat population. Pueo (the word both singular and plural) are active both during the day and at night, although we’ve spotted most of them at twilight, soaring over large open areas. On occasion, we’ve also seen them on a telephone poll at mid-day, looking down on traffic.
Look for Pueo throughout in Hawaii – especially on Kauai where there are no mongoose to threaten them. They’re more common in less populated areas but also are seen in urban settings. Their population has been in decline, especially on Oahu. While they aren’t particularly susceptible to the avian malaria that is decimating other Hawaiian bird species, they are subject to issues of light pollution (such as is seen in Honolulu) and possibly to the use of rodenticides.
Pueo can also be confused with barn owls, which were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands about fifty years ago. Barn owls are somewhat larger than Pueo and feature lighter coloring than the smaller, darker eyed and feathered Pueo. Barn owls also make a distinctive screeching sound. While Pueo can be seen at any time, tree-nesting barn owls are typically only seen at dawn and at dusk.
Have you seen Owls in Hawaii?
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