If you’re a bird-watching extraordinaire or simply love to see nature at its finest, you need to take a trip over to the Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary. Set on the western side of Kauai, this 35-acre park lets you explore beautifully-maintained ponds that serve as important local bird habitats. Along the way, you’ll see everything from endangered Hawaiian moorhens to the super-common but 100% lovely Hawaiian goose.
Just be ready for the birds, like the Hawaiian stilts, in particular, to get a little too close for comfort as they dive-bomb toward you and blast away right at the last second. Although they do this song and dance mostly to protect their eggs and chicks from trespassers, it’s a common occurrence year-round. That said, all you have to do is back away a bit and they’ll chill out once their territory doesn’t feel threatened anymore.
To stay at a respectful distance and honor the birds’ habitats, you can just follow the level path around Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary. Watch for interpretive signs along the route that tell you all about the landscape and its inhabitants. After reading the signs, you can take a moment to just soak in the sights, which might inspire the birds to put on a show in response to your stillness.
Whenever you get a chance to walk up to the edge of the pond at Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary, look for the black tilapia in their nests. They lay their eggs in the nest, and then guard them until they hatch, which is definitely a tall order with all the birds around.
Birds in the Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary include:
As the name suggests, the Hawaiian stilt is an extra-long legged shorebird with a pointy, narrow beak. This bird has distinctive black and white feathers, much like a penguin, plus bright pink legs that give flamingo vibes. If you look carefully, you can tell the females from the males by looking for a brown streak on their back. You’ll likely hear these birds before you see them because they’re often squawking, “Kip kip kip,” as they hop and flap around.
The Hawaiian moorhen has a lovely chicken-esque appearance, demeanor, and call. They have slate-gray feathers with a few white stripes all over their body plus yellow-orange legs. Their most remarkable feature is the brilliant red frontal shield on their pointy yellow beak. They are always fun to watch, so take a moment to check them out if you get a chance to see them wandering across the shores.
The Hawaiian goose, or nene, is not just any goose, although it does likely come from the pesky Canadian goose. This bird has distinctive coloring all its own, featuring vivid brown and white stripes across its body and neck. Despite its regal appearance, their hilarious side comes out as they unleash their soft call while stretching out their neck and waggling their tongues. If you listen carefully while they chatter about, you might even get a chance to hear one give a hearty, “Moo.”
Although the Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary is a popular place to simply relax the day away, there are no bathrooms or other facilities onsite. So, you’ll need to plan accordingly if you want to spend a lot of time here. In a pinch, you can jet down Kaumualii Highway to Kekaha Beach Park to use the restrooms if need be.
-There are no trash cans on site at Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary, so be sure to pack out what you bring with you.
-Bring your binoculars, a camera, and a book about Kauai birds to enjoy the full bird-watching experience.
-There’s no shade to be found, so carry sunscreen, sunglasses, and a sunhat with you on bright days.
-Overall, expect to spend about an hour at Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary walking the path and watching the birds, fish, and other wildlife in awe. You can extend your trip by bringing a picnic lunch and a blanket to spread out on the ground.