National Wildlife Refuge at Kilauea Point Includes History, Geology and Native Species

The historic lighthouse at Kilauea Point sits on a peninsula bluff with dramatic views of Kauai’s north shore coastline. It is also part of the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge which is home to an amazing variety of native birds and other wildlife as well as native Hawaiian plants that can be seen on guided hikes.

The Kilauea Lighthouse in the distance surrounded by the National Wildlife Refuge which is a bird sanctuary.

The lighthouse sits on the northernmost spot in the main Hawaiian Islands and is located on the site of a former volcanic vent. The eroded remains form a 568-foot ocean bluff that serves as an optimal promontory for viewing everything from the unique geology of the region to native plants, birds and other wildlife.

See the ongoing restoration efforts for native plants such as the alula which was all but extinct before work began to save this unique Hawaiian species. The Refuge offers Interpretation and Education programs led by volunteers and staff who will help you identify all the different species of birds and plants you see. Stop in at the Kilauea Point Visitor Center to see the educational exhibits that provide a nice introduction to the Refuge area.

Bird Watching at Kilauea Point

Few places on Earth provide the bird watching opportunities available at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. Red-footed boobies nest in trees and shrubs on the cliff sides while Laysan albatross nest on flatter ground where they can engage in their elaborate courtship rituals of bill-clapping, bowing and sky-pointing. Black-footed albatross and brown boobies may be seen flying and fishing offshore.

Often soaring overhead are the great frigatebirds, or ‘iwa, with wingspans up to seven feet. They may dip down to grab some food off the ocean’s surface, or even scare other birds into dropping their food so they can snatch it from the air as it falls.

Some of the prettiest birds you will ever see are the tropicbirds which are notable for their plumage including long tail streamers. Both the red-tailed and white-tailed tropicbirds may be seen at Kilauea Point, sometimes putting on delightful aerial courtship displays during the breeding season.

Many Hawaiian geese, or nene, are seen at the Refuge feeding on berries, leaves and grasses. The protected areas of the Refuge have played a significant role in helping the nene recover from near extinction. The photogenic birds have long, cream-colored necks patterned with dark furrows.

Other birds seen at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge include migratory seabirds such as the Pacific golden plover, wedge-tailed and Newell’s shearwaters, wandering tattlers, ruddy turnstones and more. Just standing on the lawn near the Lighthouse you will see lots of these native Hawaiian birds and also may see dolphins, humpback whales and even monk seals in the ocean below.

Refuge staff offer guided hikes along the sea cliffs up to nearby Crater Hill. The takes about two hours as guides share information about local birds and plants as well as the region’s unique geology.

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