Photo: Makaʻio the Hawaiian hawk
Makaʻio the Hawaiian hawk is a permanent resident of the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center and now serves as an ambassador for his species to the community. He survived an impact injury, but is now blind in one eye. and unable live in the wild.- Photo: Joshua Koh

Over the past few years there has been an alarming increase in the number of ʻio (native Hawaiian hawks) being shot, maimed and killed on Hawaiʻi Island.

Last month Ka Wai Ola News featured an article and video about the ʻio and its cultural significance – especially as an ʻaumakua (family god), its critical role within our native ecosystem, and the egregious assault that ʻio are currently under from human beings who view this regal endemic native bird as a pest and a threat to their small livestock and pets.

To address this issue, a hui of organizations including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center, the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center and others have joined together to raise awareness about the ʻio and its plight.

“Shooting ʻio has always been a problem due to our rural environment,” said Raymond McGuire, a wildlife biologist with DLNR on Hawaiʻi Island. “People want to scare the birds away from their property.”

McGuire notes that ʻio are territorial and adaptable birds – and it’s their very adaptability in the face of habitat loss that ends up working against them as ʻio extend their hunting range from ʻōhiʻa forests to people’s backyards.

He said that once ʻio were removed from the Federal Endangered and Threatened Species List in 2020 there was a noticeable uptick in the number of hawks who have been injured or killed as a result of gunshot wounds. “Some people interpreted [the ʻio’s removal from the list] to mean they are not protected – but that is not the case.”

In fact, Hawaiʻi State law (Statute 124) protects the ʻio, along with all other native species in Hawaiʻi. ʻIo are also protected under the Federal Migratory Birds Treaty Act. In other words, shooting or harming ʻio in any way is against the law.

Alex Wang, an endangered forest bird field supervisor with DOFAW concurs. “A very visible threat that I see at this time is shooting of ʻio at rooster farms. Every year, the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center receives more and more shot birds.

“People see them going after the chicks or see them as a threat to their prized cock fighter (which is illegal, by the way), so they just shoot the ʻio. Only a few of the shot birds find their way to rehab – and yet we get shot birds every year that we have to put down because they will never be able to fly competently again.”

To help educate the community, the hui has planned an online virtual “Hawk Week” October 9-15. Primary organizers of Hawk Week include the Hawaiʻi Island Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center and OHA, with the support of colleagues from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the ʻAlālā Project, and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

“Hawk Week is an effort to spread appreciation for ʻio,” said Andrea Buskirk, DOFAW information and education specialist for Hawaiʻi Island. “Ultimately, we hope that our community will recognize that we’re sharing an island home with ʻio and that it’s a privilege.”

Rae Okawa is the development coordinator at the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center, an organization that rescues and rehabilitates native birds. Her hope for Hawk Week is that state agencies, nonprofits, community members and visitors will come together to learn and to cultivate understanding, respect, and appreciation for the ʻio in a way that is fun and engaging.

“By coming together, we can share a wider breadth of knowledge about the ʻio. Hawk Week will cover a variety of topics, from biology to culture to conservation to rehabilitation. It’s an opportunity to ask questions, discuss the issues, and share solutions,” Okawa said.

Hawk Week was inspired by the tragic case of an orphaned ʻio who had been rescued and raised by staff at the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center. But after being released, the same ʻio was returned to the Center with a devastating gunshot wound.

Staff at the Wildlife Center took the injury of this particular hawk especially hard. “He was banded before release so we know it was the same bird,” Okawa said. “This patient was doing so well post-rehab as a free bird, but the gunshot cut his life in the wild short. The shot fractured his wrist and took away his ability to fly.”

Okawa said that, fortunately, the Honolulu Zoo adopted the ʻio as an ambassador bird at their facility so he did not have to be put to sleep. Added Buskirk, “that case sparked the conversation about how to communicate to our communities that harming ʻio is wrong.”

Ahead of Hawk Week, DOFAW has offered classroom visits by their education specialists to all public schools on Hawaiʻi Island. Many visits have already been scheduled but interested teachers are encouraged to reach out to DOFAW throughout the school year for ʻio as well as for other natural resource educational programming.

Throughout Hawk Week, organizers will be collecting creative works all about ʻio and creating a webpage full of community art, crafts, poetry, photography, and more. And everyone who sends in artwork to share will receive a special ʻio sticker.

With an eye to the future, Seth Judge, an avian ecologist with the National Park Service believes that involving the community in conservation is tremendously valuable for Hawaiʻi’s native birds in general. “Numerous species benefit from the protection of native forests and watersheds. Protecting these large areas on public and private land often requires community involvement. Getting youth inspired may encourage them to volunteer or even devote a career to conservation. Volunteering to plant trees today will help to provide habitat for ʻio and many other species years from now.”

“Protecting our wildlife is huge. If people are aware that there is a community that cares about these creatures, perhaps that will help stop people from shooting them,” McGuire said. “We need to remind people that they are still protected.”

“It’s hard to rally behind something unknown or unappreciated,” said Okawa. “I’m hoping that our communities, as we all learn together and develop an appreciation for this special bird, will start to take proactive measures to help ʻio thrive. For example, protecting chickens in coops instead of shooting ʻio, using wildlife-friendly rodent bait, and getting involved in other measures to further protect this species. These birds have adapted to human presence. If we can reduce these issues, they can do really well in our communities.”

Download the Hawk Week Flyer – PDF Format

How to Help Injured ʻIo

If you find an injured ʻio (or any other native bird):

  1. Assess the situation to determine what has happened to the bird and whether there is any lingering danger (e.g., a vicious dog).
  2. If the bird is moving, give it space. Be very careful with injured hawks! Although they are hurt, they may still strike out in self-defense.
  3. Call a wildlife organization for assistance:
    • Hilo Division of Forestry and Wildlife: 808-974-4221
    • Waimea Division of Forestry and Wildlife: 808-887-6061
    • The Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center in Kohala: 808-884-5000

If you are calling the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center after-hours, go to:

Remember, harming native birds is a crime. If you see something, say something.

To report a crime against any native bird or other native species, call the DOCARE hotline (the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement) at: 808-643-DLNR (3567).

An info sheet on the cultural significance of ʻio, as well as information about other cultural and historical topics is available on OHA’s website at: