Bird-Watching in South Maui

If there were a bird to be associated with South Maui it would be the Pacific golden plover, or kolea. Like many of the condo dwellers that occupy the beaches of Kihei during the winter, the kolea leaves its summer home in the Arctic in favor of warm, tropical Maui winters.

If you’re an avid birder and are planning a trip to Molokini, bring a pair of binoculars to check out what’s happening above water.One of the best places to see real birds in South Maui is at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge between Ma‘alaea and North Kihei. This 700-acre reserve is home to over 30 species of birds, the most notable of which are the a‘eo (Hawaiian stilt), ‘alae ke‘oke‘o (Hawaiian coot), and koloa maoli (Hawaiian duck). The greatest number of species can be found here during winter. There are short walking trails that leave from the visitor center (mile marker 6 on Mokulele Hwy.) into the Kealia Pond area. There’s also a short boardwalk from Ma‘alaea to North Kihei that parallels the shoreline and offers a number of informative placards about the island’s native wildlife. The boardwalk takes about 30 minutes to walk to the end and back, and if you plan on visiting it’s best to approach from the Ma‘alaea side of the road because there’s no left turn allowed into the parking lot off North Kihei Road.

Kamaole III Beach is home to ‘u‘au kani (wedge-tailed shearwaters).

Kamaole III Beach is home to ‘u‘au kani (wedge-tailed shearwaters). Photo © Starr Environmental, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Although there’s a good chance you won’t see any birds at all, another place to try your luck is on the beachwalk running between the Kihei Boat Ramp and the south end of Kamaole III Beach. The coastal dune system here is home to ‘u‘au kani (wedge-tailed shearwaters), and the fledgling season is usually October-December.

Although Molokini Crater is best known as a marine reserve and world-class snorkel and dive destination, few people know that the 161-foot tall islet is also a seabird sanctuary above water. Molokini Crater is home to a healthy population of ‘ua‘u kani. If you’re an avid birder and are planning a trip to Molokini, bring a pair of binoculars to check out what’s happening above water.

Those with an interest in Maui County’s seabirds should check out the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project.

Makena and Beyond

The best place for bird-watching in Makena is at Oneuli Beach by Makena State Park. Although the chances of seeing many species of birds are slim, this coastal wetland area is home to avians such as the ‘auku‘u (black-crowned night heron), ‘alae ke‘oke‘o (Hawaiian coot), and ulili (wandering tattler).

Map of South Maui, Hawaii

South Maui


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

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