Kīlauea Point Seabirds


 Year round

The red-footed booby is known as ‘ā in Hawaiian. Unlike albatross and shearwater chicks which hatch out with downy feathers, red-footed booby chicks arrive naked and quite helpless, so for the first month of life one or the other parent will be with them at the nest. After a month they are downy white and are able to regulate their own body temperature well enough to be left alone while both parents hunt for food. 


Year-round, occasionally

This species of booby is not known to nest on Kauai.  On occasion, it can be seen roosting on the small island just off the Point called Moku‘ae‘ae.  The distinct line between the chocolate brown head and neck and the white underbelly of this booby make it easily identifiable. Brown boobies, like all boobie birds, do not have nasal opening (called nares in birds) and must breath through their mouths.  This adaptation is helpful since boobies plunge dive from the air into the water and even pursue their prey underwater. Water up the nose is not an issue for the `a birds. 


February - November

The white-tailed tropicbird, called koa`e kea in Hawaiian, is another member of the family of seabirds that call Kilauea Point their home. Though less abundant, less raucous and less dramatically noticeable as its relative the red-tailed tropicbird, the white-tailed tropicbird can be easily identified, when flying over the Point, by its long, streamer-like white tail. White-tailed tropicbirds are ground nesters and lay a single egg. It takes a lot of fish and squid to raise up their chick.



February - November

The red-tailed tropicbird is a commonly seen (and heard!) seabird at Kilauea Point during its breeding season, which is occurs from February to September. It is well known for its dramatic courtship flight rituals where several birds gather in a small group and begin flying in a backwards circle, vocalizing with loud, raucous squawking.  The red beak and tail contrasting against the white plumage and framed against the blue sky make this bird a favorite for photographers at the Point.


Seen March - November

The ghost-like moaning, wailing, and baby-like cries rising up from the ground are the sounds to listen for when the `ua`u kani are at Kilauea Point for their breeding season from March to November. These ground nesting, or perhaps more accurately, underground nesting seabirds dig into the hill sides creating burrow nests for the single white egg which they lay during the month of June. Some less ambitious of this species lay their eggs right under vegetation or even in a flower box in front of the Visitor Contact Station out near the lighthouse.


April - November

The `a`o is another species of shearwater now nesting at Kilauea Point.  In an effort to save this threatened species of seabird a cross-fostering program with the more abundant wedge-tailed shearwater was attempted at Kilauea Point in 1978 and 1980. For many years, observers waited anxiously for any of the 90 fledged `a`o chicks to return to the Point to to breed, but as the years went by, hopes dwindled. Then 1997 a nest was found at Kilauea Point and more were to come. Currently less than 10 nests are found on the refuge but it is hoped that with additional management efforts the tides can be turned for this dwindling seabird on Kauai.

November - July

The Laysan albatross is an undeniable favorite at Kilauea Point. 

This species of albatross, which stands about knee-high, can be seen on the refuge during its breeding season from November to July.  Mōlī began returning to the north shore of Kauai around the mid-seventies and since that time, management efforts have been made to create favorable nesting habitat and to protect them from predators on the refuge. Visitors to Kilauea Point can view one of the nesting areas (Albatross Hill) through binoculars and scopes. There is nothing quite like the pleasure of observing the elaborate courtship ritual of the mōlī bird.

Click to enjoy a delightful video of the Laysan Albatross of Mōlī Hill, produced by FWS volunteer and KPNHA Member Louise Barnfield.


With a seven foot wingspan, the `iwa is the largest of all the seabirds seen at Kilauea Point. Most of the `iwa birds seen at Kilauea Point are females and juveniles—recognized by the white through patch and white heads, respectively.  Male frigatebirds are well-known for the large red throat sacs tha they inflate during courtship. Because `iwa do not nest at Kilauea Point, this behavior is rarely see.  What is frequently seen though, is the `iwa chasing down the red-footed boobies as they return to the colony with fish in their bellies. The `iwa (which means “thief” in Hawaiian) will harass a booby until it throws up its hard caught meal. The `iwa then swoops down, catches the disgorged food and proceeds to enjoy a stolen meal.


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