Owls in Hawaii

Updated | You Can Protect Owls in Hawaii

We get comments from many visitors who are spotting owls in Hawaii. We see them all the time too. Have you seen unforgettable owls in Hawaii? Read on for new work happening at the University of Hawaii.

The revered Hawaiian sub-species of short-eared owls is known as Pueo. Owls in Hawaii (both barn owls and Pueo) can be seen near roads, and on telephone poles, and will land on a road looking for rodents and discarded food. Not long ago, three endangered Pueo owls died after being struck by cars on Kauai. One of those was rehabilitated after previously being hit by a car.

Things you can do to help save Pueo.

  1. Do not throw any trash out of your car.
  2. Be mindful and watch for birds when driving in Hawaii.

Owns in Hawaiian mythology.

Owls in Hawaii and elsewhere are all about legend and folklore and have been for centuries. They have a very special place in 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.

Tip: Out of respect, and by tradition, we never point at them when seeing these beautiful raptors in flight.

Look for Pueo throughout Hawaii – especially on Kauai, because 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.

Learn more about Hawaiian short-eared owls at The Pueo Project. It is from Dr. Javier Cotin of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

See other Hawaii owl sightings in comments below. 


21 thoughts on “Updated | You Can Protect Owls in Hawaii”

  1. I was raised on Oahu in the Mountains on the windward side.. I had 3 very large Owls visit me add I was walking down the Mountain to go to school on separate occasions.. They were about 3-4 feet in height and they would let me pet them. Two were snowy white and the third must have been from a separate dimension because He had Gorgeous metallic fluorescent blue green feathers and was larger than tube white ones.. at least 4foot tall.

  2. Barn owls frequently fly over some areas of H-2 as they attempt to fly low over the agricultural areas on both sides of the freeway. Take care to drive slowly on H-2 at night.

  3. Monday night I was driving down makaha valley road and when I came around the turn and the was a white owl on the road. I swerved to avoid hitting it then when I passed the owl flew away. It was a beautiful sight. I usually see them flying over me on kili dr. This was my first time on the valley.

  4. I just saw an owl fly across from Ewa side toward Kunia/Makakilo side driving on H1. This is the 3rd time I’ve seen owls on H1 in the past 11years.

  5. In 2017, at about 1030pm, I saw a white owl perched on the rail on H3, Kailua bound as I was coming out of the 2nd tunnel – It was beautiful and a nice surprise as I had no idea they existes here on Oahu.

  6. We were visiting Maui this past January and saw 2 pueo on the drive up to Haleakala at mid-day. One was sitting on a line, and the other flew near our car about a half hour after we spotted the first one. They were definitely not barn owls as they were small and brown. I didn’t realize they were so endangered. What a shame!

  7. We saw a Pueo midday up at Kokee on the forest trails. We were the only ones hiking there, most were at the lookouts. The forest trails of Kauai are extraordinary! It’s crazy to hike in a forest on a tropical island. We also saw a juvenile white-tailed tropicbird chilling in the sun on the ground. Seeing the pueo flying over us in the forest midday was magical. Pueo looked at us and we looked at Pueo. I will never forget that moment. Aloha!

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