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Asio flammeus sandwichensis / Hawaiian Owl

The pueo is an endemic subspecies of the nearly pandemic short-eared owl. The species is thought to have colonized the Hawaiian Islands sometime after the arrival of Polynesians.

Unlike most owls, pueo are active during the day and are commonly seen hovering or soaring over open areas. Like short-eared owls in continental environments, those in Hawai‘i primarily consume small mammals. Their relatively recent establishment on Hawai‘i may have been tied to the rats that Polynesians brought to the islands.

Little is known about the breeding biology of pueo, but nests have been found throughout the year. Males perform aerial displays known as a sky dancing display to prospective females. Nests are constructed by females and are comprised of simple scrapes in the ground lined with grasses and feather down. Females also perform all incubating and brooding. Males feed females and defend nests. Chicks hatch asynchronously and are fed by female with food delivered by male. Young may fledge from nest on foot before they are able to fly and depend on their parents for approximately two months.

Found on all the main Hawaiian Islands, Pueo occupy a variety of habitats, including wet and dry forests, but are most common in open habitats such as grasslands, shrublands, and montane parklands, including urban areas and those actively managed for conservation. Because of a lack of historical population data and the species’ current, broad habitat use, key habitat variables are difficult to determine.

Pueo are likely susceptible to the same factors that threaten other native Hawaiian birds, including: loss and degradation of habitat, predation by introduced mammals, and disease.

Facts About Pueo

The Pueo or Hawaiian Owl is considered sacred by many Hawaiians. It is one of the many physical manifestations (kinolau) of ancestral guardians ('aumakua). The pueo is one of the more widely recognized of the Hawaiian `aumakua. These birds protect individuals from harm, and even death. One `aumakua from Maui, Pueonuiakea, guides individuals safely back to their home.

Page Photo Credits — © Tom Dove, © Dan Clark
Last Updated: Aug 27, 2013
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