With so many bird species on the planet, it’s no surprise that they can come in a plethora of shapes and sizes. Though we’ve gone over many birds with a range of colors, purely white birds are ones we’ve rarely discussed. In this article, we’ll be going over 17 birds that can be found in Hawaii and are either completely or partially white.
1. White Tern
Scientific Name: Gygis alba
Range: Across the Pacific Ocean, less in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, Papua New Guinea
The white tern is a medium-sized tern consisting completely of white plumage, along with a somewhat forked tail, and black eyes. The beak is light blue at the base, which turns to black at the tip. The white tern can be seen flying and gliding gracefully over the water.
White terns can be found across the subtropical and tropical South Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. They will breed in the trees and on natural and artificial ledges across coral islands. They may be seen from boats, but are most visible when foraging over the water.
The white tern’s diet consists mainly of fish that are driven close to the ocean’s surface by larger predatory fish below. Other prey includes small squid and occasionally crustaceans. Around Hawaii, white terns feed specifically on juvenile goatfish and flying fish.
2. Cattle Egret
Scientific Name: Bubulcus ibis
Range: Across all continents (including the northern tip of Antarctica), though is absent in northern Europe and Asia
The cattle egret is a small white heron with a short yellow beak. During the breeding season, its head and breast turn a pale salmon color, and its beak becomes brighter. Its leg color ranges from red and yellow during the breeding season to black during nonbreeding seasons. Juveniles have a noticeably darker beak.
Typical habitats for the cattle egret include wetlands, grasslands, and woodlands. They are mainly found inshore and don’t get their feet wet, though they aren’t fond of arid areas either. They may be found in more urban areas, such as croplands and pastures, where they can be seen with cattle or other livestock.
Cattle egrets are mainly insectivorous, with their diet consisting of insects, such as locusts and grasshoppers. Other prey that sometimes supplement their diet includes rodents, lizards, frogs, and worms.
3. Little Tern
Scientific Name: Sternula albifrons
Range: Europe, Central, and Southern Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, Hawaii
The little tern, per its namesake, is a small tern that, during the breeding season, consists of a black cap with a white forehead chevron and a black-tipped yellow beak. They can always be identified by their small size, though wintering adults can resemble common terns (one noticeable difference being the black stripes that extend from the shoulders to the wingtips).
Little terns breed on sandy and stony substrates, though they may sometimes join with other terns at habitats such as beaches, riverbanks, and lakeshores. They overall prefer the coasts and inland waterways around temperate and tropical regions of Europe and Asia.
Small fish, crustaceans, and invertebrates make up the majority of the little tern’s diet. They feed mainly by plunging into the water to catch their prey.
4. Red-Tailed Tropicbird
Scientific Name: Phaethon rubricauda
Range: Across the Pacific Ocean, less seen in the Indian Ocean
The red-tailed tropicbird is a medium-sized seabird consisting of mainly white plumage, a black mask, black feet, a sharp red beak, and long red tail streamers. These streamers are thin and, thus, can be hard to see from a distance. The red-tailed tropicbird is larger and heavier than the similarly appearing white-tailed tropicbird.
The red-tailed tropicbird’s habitats include the tropical and subtropical seas surrounding northern Australia, Hawaii, and other areas across the Pacific Ocean. They spend most of their lives at sea and, thus, are rarely seen on land.
The red-tailed tropicbird’s diet consists mainly of fish and squid, which they catch by plunge-diving into the sea just beneath the water’s surface.
5. Masked Booby
Scientific Name: Sula dactylatra
Range: Pacific Ocean, Eastern Atlantic Ocean, less seen in the Indian Ocean
The masked booby is a large seabird with mostly white plumage, an exception being the black trailing edges to the wings. It also has a black tail and a dark mask at the base of its short yellow beak. Juveniles have a brown head, neck, and upperparts, with occasional random white patches. Juveniles, with their pale-yellow beak and mainly white underwings, resemble the Nazca Booby until about a year old, when the latter begins to develop an orange or pink beak.
The masked booby spends the majority of its time over the ocean and nests on islands, making it rarely seen over the mainland. They are abundant over tropical and subtropical open oceans.
The masked booby feeds mainly on fish (they have a particular craving for flying fish) and squid. They plunge into the ocean head first to catch their prey.
6. Short-Tailed Albatross
Scientific Name: Phoebastria albatrus
Range: Northern and Eastern Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
The short-tailed albatross is a large, rarely seen seabird with adults having a white body, dark brown/black wings, white upper wing coverts, a light-yellow nape, and a bright pink beak. Juveniles are dark brown/black overall with a pink beak. Juveniles obtain more of their white plumage as they age.
The short-tailed albatross often nests on isolated, windy offshore islands where there is little to no human presence. Besides nesting near Japan, the bird is also known to nest in the Hawaiian Archipelago.
The short-tailed albatross eats a variety of foods, including flying fish eggs, adult fish, crustaceans, shrimp, and squid. The bird often feeds in the early morning or at twilight when it’s out hunting squid.
Scientific Name: Bucephala albeola
Range: North America, Northern Pacific Ocean, Mexico, and occasionally in Western Europe
The bufflehead is a small diving duck with a large head, a small gray beak, and, for breeding males, black and white plumage with a large white patch behind the head. Females and juvenile males are gray-brown overall, with a white patch on each cheek. They are sometimes associated with the Common Goldeneye, though this bird is significantly smaller.
Typical habitats for the bufflehead include bays, estuaries, reservoirs, and lakes during the winter. In warmer months, the bird will travel to boreal forests, where they nest in tree cavities.
The bufflehead’s diet consists mainly of aquatic insects during the summer on freshwater and crustaceans in the ocean. A significant portion of their diet consists of mollusks (snails being particularly common) during the winter and some plant material during fall.
8. Semipalmated Plover
Scientific Name: Charadrius semipalmatus
Range: North, Central, and South America, Northern Pacific Ocean, less seen in the Atlantic Ocean
The semipalmated plover is a small plover with orange legs, a solid dark breast band, brown upperparts, and a short, stout beak with an orange base. The orange is less prominent in juveniles. Compared to the Piping or Snowy plovers, the semipalmated plover has upperparts that are significantly darker in color (they’re closer to the color of wet sand).
The semipalmated plover often nests in sand or gravel ridges, beaches, or dry vegetated ground. They breed on the tundra, mudflats, estuaries, lagoons, ponds, and other rocky areas close to the water.
Semipalmated plovers feed mainly on small invertebrates, such as insects, small gastropods, crustaceans, and worms. They can be seen foraging by running in quick dashes while pausing to look and listen for prey, after which they’ll grab them and pull them out from the ground.
9. Franklin’s Gull
Scientific Name: Leucophaeus pipixcan
Range: North, Central, and South America, less seen in the Pacific Ocean, Western Europe
The Franklin’s gull is a medium-sized gull with breeding adults having a black head with thick white eye arcs, large white spots on top of black wingtips, a dark red beak and legs, and white underparts that may show a hint of pink. Nonbreeding plumage consists of a partial black hood, a dark beak, and dark legs. Juveniles have brown upperparts.
The franklin’s gull breeds around the lakes and marshes within the prairies of North and Central North America. During migration, the bird moves to wintering grounds in South America, where its often found along the coasts and offshore.
Invertebrates, such as earthworms, midges, grubs, grasshoppers, crabs, and snails, make up the majority of the franklin’s gull’s diet. Their diet may also include a small amount of vegetation, such as sunflower seeds, wheat, and oats.
10. Ring-Billed Gull
Scientific Name: Larus delawarensis
Range: North and Central America, Western Europe, less seen in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
The ring-billed gull is a small gull with breeding adults consisting of a white head with a black ring around the midsection of the beak. Nonbreeding adults have numerous small brown markings on their head. All adults have pale eyes and yellow eyes. Juveniles are mainly brown throughout, with a pink beak that has a black tip.
Typical habitats for the ring-billed gull include lakes, rivers, ponds, beaches, and other fresh or saltwater sources. They are more often found inland compared to other gull species, with the ring-billed gull being particularly fond of urban areas, such as parking lots, restaurants, garbage dumps, and agricultural areas.
The ring-billed gull is omnivorous; hence they consume a combination of animal and plant matter. Common foods include insects, fish, earthworms, grain, rodents, and refuse.
11. Black-Necked Stilt
Scientific Name: Himantopus mexicanus
Range: North, Central, and South America, Hawaii
The black-necked stilt is a shorebird consisting of black-and-white plumage throughout, a thin and long black beak, and very long, light pink legs. Males are somewhat glossier above, while females are slightly browner. The birds in Hawaii have a darker necks, while those in South America have a whiter crown and whiter plumage on their collar.
The black-necked stilt can often be found in shallow wetlands with some degree of vegetation, such as salt ponds and pans, flooded areas adjacent to rivers, shallow lagoons, salt marshes, and mudflats. The limited freshwater wetlands around Hawaii are the bird’s main habitat in Hawaii.
Most of the black-necked stilt’s diet consists of worms, mollusks, shrimp, insects, small fish, and occasionally floating seeds. They overall consume mainly the insects and crustaceans that live on or near the surface of the water.
12. Arctic Tern
Scientific Name: Sterna paradisaea
Range: North America, Europe, Northern Asia, Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean
The arctic tern is a seabird with adults having pale gray plumage, white cheeks, a black cap, a red beak, red legs, very long wings, and a forked tail. Juveniles have a partially black cap, a black beak, black legs, pale gray wingtips, and stubby legs. Its beak, legs, belly, and wingtip appearances separate this bird from the similar Common Tern.
Typical habitats of the arctic tern include the open ocean, rocky coasts, islands, and in the summer, tundra lakes. Their range in the ocean varies quite a bit, but arctic terns typically spend most of their time over cold waters and remain far offshore. They nest in a variety of locations, such as islands, gravel beaches, and coastal tundra.
The arctic tern feeds mostly on small fish, crustaceans, and insects, though their exact diet depends on the season and location. The bird feeds mainly on insects during the summer on breeding grounds. Other less common foods include mollusks, marine worms, earthworms, and berries.
13. Red-Crested Cardinal
Scientific Name: Paroaria coronata
Range: South America, Hawaii
The red-crested cardinal is a songbird with a bright red crest and throat, which contrasts with its light-and-dark gray back and white underparts. Its beak is rather short and stout, with a gray tint on top and a light pink coloration on the bottom.
The red-crested cardinal can typically be found in semi-open habitats containing shrubs and trees, such as parks, lawns, tropical and subtropical shrubland, and heavily degraded forests.
The typical diet for the red-crested cardinal includes fruits, seeds, and insects, as well as the occasional young shoots and berries. Common insects include waxworms, mealworms, and small crickets. They often forage for seeds and small arthropods on or near the ground.
14. White-Rumped Shama
Scientific Name: Copsychus malabaricus
Range: Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, introduced to Taiwan and Hawaii
The white-rumped shama is a small passerine bird that, for males, consists of a glossy black plumage above with light brown underparts. Females are similar in appearance but are overall paler, while juveniles are a reddish-brown color throughout with rusty wing bars. The white rump contrasts the black plumage so that it’s very clearly seen in males.
The white-rumped shama can be found in dense lowland, forested areas (including hills), forest edges, secondary jungles, or other habitats that include dense underbrush or thick wood cover. They may also be seen in more urban areas, such as overgrown orchards or plantations.
The white-rumped shama consumes a mainly insectivorous diet, with common prey including ants, caterpillars, moths, beetles, flies, grasshoppers, and centipedes. They may also consume spiders, worms, and berries on occasion.
15. Red-Footed Booby
Scientific Name: Sula sula
Range: Pacific and Indian Oceans, less seen in the Atlantic Ocean
The red-footed booby is a large seabird with varying plumage, though all variations have bright red feet, a colorful beak and face, and either a black or white tail. Some have light brown plumage throughout, while others have white plumage with some black trailing edges to the wings. Juveniles are brown throughout with light pink feet.
The red-footed booby typically nests on tropical atolls and islands, especially those with trees, but they may also use clumps of grass or manmade structures for nesting. Nonbreeding birds spend their entire lives over offshore tropical waters, never spending time over the mainland.
The red-footed booby feeds mainly on small fish (especially flying fish) and squid. They typically plunge dive to the water in order to capture prey that they spot from the air, but they’re also capable of catching flying fish straight from the air.
16. Yellow-Billed Cardinal
Scientific Name: Paroaria capitata
Range: Hawaii, South America
The yellow-billed cardinal is a slender bird consisting of a gray back, white chest, white collar, and a bright red head. Juveniles have a similar appearance to adults but have a brown head and back instead of red and gray. The yellow-billed cardinal resembles the Red-Crested cardinal, but it lacks the latter’s signature crest.
The yellow-billed cardinal can be found around waterside habitats, such as forested marshes, flooded fields, riparian scrub and forest, and wooded lakeshores. They are overall tolerant of human presence and can be seen in waterside towns and cities.
The typical diet for the yellow-billed cardinal includes insect and plant matter. They may feed on various plant materials, such as seeds, young shoots, and berries.
17. Herring Gull
Scientific Name: Larus argentatus
Range: North and Central America, Europe, Asia, Pacific Ocean, less seen in the Atlantic Ocean
The herring gull is a large gull with adults consisting of a light gray back, pale eyes, light pink legs, and white plumage on the head, neck, and underparts. Juveniles take roughly four years to progress from mostly brown plumage to completely white and gray adult plumage. The exact plumage can vary depending on the subspecies across its large range, but juveniles will always display darker wingtips.
Herring gulls can be found on beaches along the shores of oceans or other large water bodies during the winter. During other times of the year, they may be seen inland and beside lakes and rivers, in meadows, or in more urban surroundings, such as golf courses, buildings, or garbage dumps.
As omnivores, herring gulls consume a relatively wide variety of foods, such as carrion, offal, seeds, fruits, young birds and their eggs, small mammals, insects, and fish. They overall tend to feed more on fish and garbage during the winter and early spring, but they’re highly flexible in their diet and will exploit any locally abundant food.
Birds display an incredible amount of diversity; hence it’s not surprising that something as specific as white birds in Hawaii can produce such an extensive list of birds. Though some of these birds can only be seen over the ocean, most are abundant enough that you should have no problem spotting them if you know where to look.