Because Hawaii is so far from the mainland USA, it has a completely different climate and ecology. While several mainland states boast over 20 species of sparrow, Hawaii has just two – and neither of them is native!
This makes identification much easier. Whereas distinguishing sparrow species on the mainland can be incredibly tricky, the two sparrows that live in Hawaii both have a distinctive appearance.
If you live in Hawaii, you can get a closer look at these birds by offering black oil sunflower seeds, millet, and other grains from your backyard bird feeder.
But how did these birds get here, and where can they be seen now? In this brief guide, I’ll reveal all.
- Scientific Name: Passer domesticus
- Length: 5.9-6.7 in (15-17 cm)
- Weight: 0.9-1.1 oz (27-30 g)
- Wingspan: 7.5-9.8 in (19-25 cm)
The Eurasian house sparrow or ‘English sparrow’ is the only true sparrow in Hawaii, but how did it get here? While these friendly birds were introduced to the mainland United States from Europe in the 1850s, they got to Hawaii from a more surprising route.
They were imported to the islands in the 1870s not from Europe or North America, but from New Zealand! These European birds had been introduced to New Zealand in the 1860s from Europe and were said to be combatting various pests on the colonial islands.
Perhaps pest control was also the intended purpose of bringing them to Hawaii, although, in most places that they were introduced, house sparrow numbers rocketed, until they became the pest!
Now one of the most frequently seen birds in towns and around human habitation in Hawaii, house sparrows are unpopular with some ornithologists who feel that their territorial behavior has deprived native birds of their nesting grounds. Others look more kindly on these endearing immigrants, which are one of the tamest on the islands, and can even be trained to eat from your hand!
Since there aren’t any other brown sparrows in Hawaii, house sparrows should be easy to recognize. Males have a gray belly, brown cap and back, and distinctive black plumage from their eyes down to their chests. Females are plainer-looking, without the brown cap or any black markings.
- Scientific Name: Lonchura oryzivora
- Length: 6 inches (15cm)
- Weight: 0.9 oz (25 g)
- Wingspan: 8 in (20cm)
I’m sorry to break it to you, but the second sparrow in Hawaii is not really a sparrow at all! The Java sparrow actually belongs to the finch family and is sometimes more accurately known as the ‘Java finch’. Other common names for this bird include Java Rice Bird, Paradise Sparrow, Ricebird, Paddy Rice Bird, Rice Munia, Paddy Finch, Temple Bird, and Java Temple Bird.
They were introduced to O’ahu Island in the 1960s but quickly spread to the other Hawaiian islands thereafter. Large flocks can now be spotted in city parks and lowland areas of the islands, especially on Oahu.
These beautiful and exotic-looking birds can exhibit various color mutations, including a very attractive full white-bodied variation. Their typical plumage, however, is a largely gray body, with a black head and white cheeks. Perhaps their most distinctive feature is their enormous red bill – the same color as the striking outline of their eyes.
As well as Hawaii, feral Java sparrows can occasionally be spotted in California, Florida, and Texas after escaping from captivity. They nest in the eaves of buildings in urban areas, and trees in the countryside and mostly feed on seeds and insects.
There are only two sparrows in Alaska, neither of them is native, and one is a sparrow in name only!
The lack of sparrow species in Hawaii doesn’t, however, reflect the abundant diversity of birdlife in Hawaii. There have been more than 300 birds recorded across the islands, and we’ve compiled a fascinating guide to the most beautiful and iconic of all of them.
Can you guess which ones made our list? You can find out here.