The Best Places to See Birds in the Cook Islands
Have you got a soft spot for seeing our tropical feathered friends flittering in the wild? So do we! Although the Cook Islands isn’t as famous for its birds as other islands in the South Pacific, the nation still has intriguing endemic species, as well as amazing seabirds and migrating birds. Check out the best places to see them in this list of the best spots for bird watching in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands.
If you want to go bird watching in the Cook Islands, then your first consideration should be Atiu. The traditional name of the island is “Enuamanu“, meaning the “land of birds”, which is just the first indicated that this island has always been an important habitat for our feathered friends. The island has an abundance of kakerori (Rarotongan monarch) and colourful kura (Rimatara lorikeet), as well as the island-endemic kopeka (Atiu swiftlet) that lives in just one cave on the island. Atiu is also the only island in the Cook Islands with a dedicated bird watching tour. Start planning your excursion to this bird-watching paradise with The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu.
Suwarrow is the Cook Island’s only national park and one of the most important breeding grounds for around 10 species of seabird, many of which can be seen circling the skies over the lagoon’s islands. Approximately 3% of the world’s red-tailed tropicbirds breed here, while around 9% of lesser frigate birds nest on the aptly named Gull Islands. Suwarrow is also home to around 80,000 sooty terns. If you’re lucky enough to sail to Suwarrow or stop by on the cargo ship from Rarotonga when it unloads, don’t miss this sight! See The Complete Travel Guide to Suwarrow for more details.
While many of the birds found in the Cook Islands can be seen on the rugged coral uplifted atoll of Mangaia, the main reason any birder will want to visit is to see the island-endemic tanga’eo (Mangaian kingfisher). The bird with a stable population on the island can be seen among any of the forested areas but a good place to spot them is at Lake Tiriara where there’s a pleasant picnic area making it comfortable to stick around. Find out more about Mangaia in The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia.
4. Takitumu Conservation Area – Rarotonga
This private conservation area is a project to protect Rarotonga’s endemic flycatcher, the kakerori (Rarotongan monarch). Although it’s very difficult to find tours of the Takitumu Conservation Area, the benefits of work here can be seen in the surrounding forests of Rarotonga, such as along the southern end of the Cross Island Trek (see the 10 Best Walks in Rarotonga) where it’s possible to spot the kakerori on this 3-4-hour hike.
5. Moturakau and Rapota – Aitutaki
While there are many decent bird watching spots in Aitutaki (the summit of Maunga Pu for spotting red-tailed tropicbirds, the southern coastal roads for spotting Pacific reef herons, and grassy inland areas for seeing Pacific golden plovers that have migrated from Alaska in summer – to name a few), some of the best bird watching can be found on the uninhabited motu (islands) of the lagoon. In particular, Moturakau and Rapota have circling seabirds to admire, including an abundance of terns, noddies and boobies. Learn more about planning a trip to Aitutaki in The Complete Travel Guide to Aitutaki.
Smashed by waves and fringed by an enclosed reef, the tiny island of Tuketea is so hard to get onto that it’s been mainly left to the birds. Of course, watching the thriving seabird population circle the skies above Takutea is the main highlight of this island. Look out for red-tailed tropicbirds, red-footed and brown-footed boobies, great frigates, brown and black noddies, white terns, reef herons and more – only if you’re lucky enough to be on a boat passing nearby. Learn more about the island in The Complete Travel Guide to Takutea.
Another one of the Cook Islands’ uninhabited islands is Manuea. Despite its relative proximity to Aitutaki 101km (63 miles) away, rarely anyone ventures here. Those wishing to see this stunning piece of paradise for themselves will have many hurdles to jump. Those that make it may have the chance of seeing the ultra-rare bristle-thighed curlew. During the summer months, the world’s most endangered long-distance flyer makes the arduous journey from Alaska to Te Au Otu every year. Find out more about those hurdles, as well as more interesting history about the island, in The Complete Travel Guide to Manuae.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bird Watching in the Cook Islands
What else is there to know about birds in the Cook Islands? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions on the internet about birds in the Cook Islands!
What Endangered Bird Can You Spy on the Island of Atiu?
The endangered bird that you can spy on the island of Atiu is the kakerori, otherwise known as the Rarotongan monarch or Rarotongan flycatcher. The bird population was moved here after the species faced extinction during the 1990s. While the kakerori has been reintroduced to Rarotonga, the best place to see these endemic birds to the Cook Islands is on the island of Atiu.
What is the National Bird of the Cook Islands?
Due to its incredible revival story, the kakerori (Rarotongan monarch) has become the unofficial national bird of the Cook Islands.
Are There Seagulls in Rarotonga?
While seagulls seem to live just about anywhere, they do not reside on the islands of the Cook Islands nor Rarotonga!
More About Bird Watching in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our guide to the best places for bird watching in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. For more about the birds of the Cook Islands, as well as nature tours and the like, take a look at the guides below:
- 20 Animals & Birds in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- Wildlife in the Cook Islands: Animals in the Cook Islands & Where to See Them
- 10 Best Nature & Wildlife Tours in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Finally, plan more of your bird watching expedition including all of the logistics with The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide and 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.