Breeding Seabirds of the Main Hawaiian Islands

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The seabird research team at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center is working with many partners to map the terrestrial and marine distributions of breeding seabirds of the main Hawaiian islands.

Brown booby with chick

Brown booby (Sula leucogaster) with chick. (Credit: Jonathan Felis, USGS. Public domain.)

Native Hawaiian seabirds spend the vast majority of their lives at sea and use these waters for foraging, resting, and commuting. When on land, many Hawaiian seabirds are concentrated at colonies located throughout the main islands, where they face threats from invasive species, introduced predators, and human disturbance.  While at sea, Hawaiian seabirds could be affected by offshore wind energy development in the future. Under its clean energy initiative, the state of Hawaiʻi is striving for 100% renewable energy by 2045. The ocean surrounding Hawaiʻi is characterized by sustained trade winds that have generated interest for developing potential offshore wind energy infrastructure. USGS WERC research on the distributions of native Hawaiian seabirds is generating data to inform species management and marine planning in the region.


Tracking Seabird Movements

In order to provide new information on Hawaiian breeding seabird distribution, habitat use, and ranging behaviors at sea, the USGS Western Ecological Research Center has used GPS trackers to extensively track seabird movements within waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands. These tracking data are intended to inform marine spatial planning, in particular the evaluation of proposed renewable energy sites and environmental review of specific renewable energy project proposals. By mapping the movements of seabird species, USGS provides resource managers with the ability to determine where seabird activity overlaps with proposed energy infrastructure.


Atlas of Breeding Seabirds of the Main Hawaiian Islands

Because federal, state, and local resource managers lack comprehensive, easily available data to map current seabird colony locations and breeding population sizes throughout the main Hawaiian Islands, the USGS Western Ecological Research Center is working with many partners to generate an Atlas of Breeding Seabirds of the Main Hawaiian Islands. The atlas will provide benchmarks to measure future changes in seabird population sizes and breeding distribution and will also assist efforts to evaluate threats to seabirds both on land and at sea.

Ultimately, species- and colony-specific data for main Hawaiian Island seabirds on land and at sea will inform evaluations of potential risk and options for mitigation strategies for effects of offshore energy infrastructure on seabirds.


Adams, J, Felis, JJ, Czapanskiy, MF. 2020. Habitat Affinities and At-Sea Ranging Behaviors among
Main Hawaiian Island Seabirds: Breeding Seabird Telemetry, 2013–2016. Camarillo (CA): U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Pacific OCS Region. OCS Study BOEM 2020-006. 111 pages.

Felis, J.J., Czapanskiy, M.F., and Adams, J., 2019, At-sea ranging behavior of seabirds breeding in the main Hawaiian Islands: Bio-logger data release: U.S. Geological Survey data release,



Map showing flight tracks of four Hawaiian seabirds over the ocean, with varying ranges

Example GPS tracks of breeding Hawaiian seabirds from breeding colonies in main Hawaiian Islands. Inset map shows close up of example tracks from colonies on Kauaʻi. Species tracked are Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis; top left, pink), Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna pacifica; bottom left, grey), Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda; bottom middle, red), and Red-footed Booby (Sula sula; bottom right, light blue).

(Public domain.)

Banner photos: close-up of a Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda) aerial display, Makapili Rock at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, and a White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lebturus) in flight over Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on a stormy morning. All photo credits: Jonathan Felis, USGS


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