The Hawaiian Islands are home to an amazing variety of native and exotic bird species, from the majestic nene goose to the curious rose-ringed parakeet. Ancient Hawaiians revered native birds as aumakua, or ancestral spirits, and used their feathers to create magnificent capes, cloaks, and helmets for the ruling ali‘i class. Many of these items remain on display at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, and others in England, Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia. Sadly, many of those native bird species whose feathers were used to create those regal garments are now extinct or extremely endangered.
But perhaps the most unlikely bird species to call Hawaii home is the peacock. The majestic species was first introduced into what is now the United States in 1860 by Frances Sinclair. It didn’t make it to California until nearly 20 years later. Peacocks can now be found on all of the major Hawaiian islands.
Princess Kaiulani was widely known for her love of the peculiar birds, and she is sometimes referred to as the “Peacock Princess.” The statue of her likeness in Waikiki features her feeding a peacock. The piercing calls can still be heard near the Honolulu Zoo in Waikiki, where they roam the grounds freely. Some even make their way over the fence and into nearby Kapiolani Park.
Peacocks are a common site at a variety of botanical gardens on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. In some cases, feral populations have established themselves outside of protected areas. In fact, they can even become a nuisance. Back in 2010, residents of East Honolulu were outraged when federal wildlife officials conducted the killing of 18 peacocks at the Koko Crater Botanical Gardens. As awful as that sounds, the birds were killing rare, endangered native plant species.
And that’s not the only time peacocks have made news. In 2009, a woman was charged with animal cruelty beating a peacock to death with a baseball bat in Makaha. Evidently, the constant, shrill cries of the birds pushed the woman over the edge. Public opinion was divided between those who agreed that peacocks are a nuisance, those who called for animal rights advocacy, and those who said, “Who cares?” A jury found the woman not guilty.
At any rate, peacocks are here to stay. They’ve been here for more than 150 years, and they appear to like it. There is a neighborhood in east Oahu where it is not uncommon to observe one or more peacocks lounging casually on the rooftops of the homes there.
On Oahu, the best places to spot peacocks are the Honolulu Zoo and Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden. On Maui, try Garden of Eden Maui Botanical Gardens and Arboretum. Kauai’s Smith Family Garden is home to a thriving population, as is Volcanos National Park on the Big Island.