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Forest Birds


(Scarlet Hawaiian Honeycreeper)

Photo credit: Steve Bird

Fun Fact:

-The i'iwi is a large, nectivorous honeycreeper (~6 inches in length).

- The shape of beak fits to flowers precisely and the bird can draw nectar more efficiently than the other bird species. During nectar feeding most honeycreepers provide pollination service.


- Its long, downward-curving bill is specialized for sipping nectar from tubular flowers.


- The 'I'iwi was once one of the most common native forest birds throughout the Hawaiian Islands, but this stunning honeycreeper has disappeared from most of its former range.

- Like other Hawaiian forest birds, the 'I'iwi is in decline.

- Its susceptibility to avian malaria and avian pox, both transmitted by mosquitoes, is a major factor. Research has shown that 90 percent of 'I'iwi bitten by a single malaria-infected mosquito die from the disease. 

- Endemic to the main Hawaiian islands, common to abundant on Hawaii, Maui and Kauai, rare or almost none existent on Molokai, Oahu and Lanai.



(Crested Honeycreeper)

Photo credit: C. ROBBY KOHLEY

Fun Fact:

- The striking crest helps pollinate native plants as the bird moves from flower to flower while feeding.

-'Akohekohe maintain year-round territories around their nests or nectar sources. They are highly aggressive and territorial, chasing off native rivals such as the 'Apapane and 'I'iwi when competing for food.

- Historically, the 'Akohekohe's unusual appearance also made it desirable to collectors.


-'Akohekohe usually feed on 'ohi'a flower nectar, but will take nectar from other native plants, as well as insects and fruits.


-'Akohekohe were listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1967.

- Ongoing conservation measures for the species include protecting and restoring native forest–particularly above the mosquito zone–and removal of non-native hoofed mammals, such as sheep, that destroy the bird's habitat.

-Once common on the islands of Maui and Molokai, today less than 4,000 are found only on Maui.



Photo credit: MIKE TERUYA.

Fun Fact:

-Fossil records suggest that this greenish-yellow honeycreeper with a black mask has inhabited only the island of Kaua'i. 

- This species has a specialized bill  with offset tips that allows it to pry open buds of 'Ōhi'a leaves and flowers to search for invertebrates.


- Feeds almost exclusively in terminal leaf clusters of ohi'a trees (not in flowers).


- This species is classified as Critically Endangered owing to an extremely rapid decline in population size over the last ten years. Urgent action is required to halt the decline of this species

- The species is endemic to Kaua'i in the Hawaiian Islands

- Like most of the native forest birds in Hawai'i, the 'Akeke'e is restricted to high-elevation forests that are in nearly pristine condition.



Photo credit:

Fun Fact:

-This species is restricted to Big Island in the Hawaiian Islands. In prehistoric times, palila also occurred at low elevation sites on O‘ahu.

-The palila can only be found in 6,000 to 9,000 feet elevations on the slopes of Mauna Kea on the Big Island.

- This rare forest bird is very selective because it thrives in specific native ecosystems, relying on green mamane tree pads for 90% of its food.


 - This active bird also eats insects, naio berries, and mamane flowers, buds, and young leaves. 


-This species has is listed as Critically Endangered because it has suffered extremely rapid annual population declines since 2003.

- Decreasing population is cause by prolonged drought, which has reduced mamane pod production, habitat degradation caused by introduced ungulates, predation by introduced cats, and competition for caterpillar food from introduced parasitoid wasps.

- The estimated population size down to only c.1,200 individuals (American Bird Conservancy 2010)


Hawaiian Akepa

Photo credit:

Fun Fact:

- It inhabits wet and mesic forest, primarily of koa-`ohi`a at 1,100-2,100 m (mostly above 1,500 m).

- Mating competitive activities include chases, group displays and stunning aerial “dogfights” in which rival males may soar together up to 100 meters into the air before separating.

- The males compete for the opportunity to form long-term breeding pairs with females possessing the brightest yellow-orange patches. These females are more likely to raise chicks successfully than duller females of the same age, but are much less abundant.


- High up in the forest canopy, where it forages for invertebrates among the twigs, crevices and, in particular, the leaf and flower buds of the ohia tree. Using its unusual, crossed bill tips, it pries open the buds, extracting caterpillars and spiders and sweeping out nectar with the brush-like tip of its tongue.


- Endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. On Hawai'i, the only remaining subspecies occurs in three populations totaling c.14,000 individuals.


Hawaiian Elapaio

Photo credit:

Fun Fact:

- Elapaio are one of the few Hawaiian bird species that are known to occasionally inhabit forests dominated by introduced vegetation such as guava.

- They are the guardian spirit of canoe makers who recognized that the frequent use of a particular koa tree by an `elepaio was an indication the tree was likely to harbor a large insect population, and may therefore be undesirable for use as a canoe. 

- Elepaio also give a distinct alarm call that signals the presence of the `Io (Hawaiian hawk) which are known predators of `elepaio and other forest bird species.


- Their food consists nearly exclusively of insects and spiders.

- Elepaio are very versatile foragers, utilizing the full range of the forest to obtain their prey.


 - Elepaio are fairly common on Hawaii and Kaua`i but are rare on O`ahu where they are now listed as endangered.

- There is no evidence that it ever existed on Maui, Moloka`i, or Lana`i. Loss of habitat, introduced diseases, and introduced predators such as rats are the primary threats to `elepaio on O`ahu.


Akiapola Au

Photo credit: Bob Gress

Fun Fact:

- When searching for food, it makes a tapping noise that can be mistaken for a woodpecker.

- These birds travel in family groups and like to fly with other flocks of forest birds.


- This forest bird creeps along branches and uses its unique bill to pick out insect larvae under the bark of koa trees, and it only occasionally feeds on nectar.


- This species is classified as Endangered because it has a very small, severely fragmented range, and is experiencing continuing declines in range, habitat quality and population, largely owing to the effects of introduced species.

- Endemic to Hawai`i in the Hawaiian Islands, where it was formerly widespread.



Photo credit: Jim Denny

Fun Fact:

- It is one of the most common honeycreepers on Hawai‘i, Maui, and Moloka‘i, and may be evolving resistance to diseases like Avian Malaria.

- Forages alone, in pairs, in family groups, or in mixed flocks.

- Courtship behavior somewhat complex and includes courtship chases, advertising displays, and courtship feeding.

- Pairs will remain together for successive breeding seasons. Pair selects nest site; female builds an open-cup nest and lays two or three eggs. Only females incubate eggs and brood nestlings. Males deliver food to females who then feed nestlings. Fledglings are dependent on parents for up to three months. The Hawai‘i ‘amakihi usually raise two broods in a season. 


- Hawai‘i ‘amakihi are generalized foragers that most often glean arthropods from the leaves, blossoms, twigs, branches, and less frequently from tree trucks of a variety of trees, ferns, and shrubs.

- Feeds on nectar predominately from the flowers of ‘ōhi‘a , māmane, and native lobelias , but also forages on flowers of a number of other native and non-native plants. 

- Hawai‘i ‘amakihi also eats fruit from native and non-native plants, but predominately from pilo.


- Populations on the islands of Hawai‘i and Maui are probably stable; the Moloka‘i population is probably declining. 

- Hawai‘i ‘amakihi occur between 300 and 2,900 meters (1,000 – 9,500 feet) on the islands of Hawai‘i, Maui and Moloka‘i; not common below 500 meters.



Photo credit: Lynda J Goff

Fun Fact:

- The ‘apapane is a small, crimson, primarily nectarivorous Hawaiian honeycreeper and is an important ‘ōhi‘a pollinator. 

- Apapane are the most abundant and widely distributed Hawaiian honeycreeper, and they are often seen flying above the canopy in search of patches of flowering ‘ōhi‘a. 

-‘Apapane often forage in conspecific flocks, likely to overwhelm ‘i‘iwi and ‘ākohekohe, which often defend flower-rich trees. 


 - Apapane primarily consumes nectar but also eat insects, which they glean from outer foliage and twigs in the upper- and mid-canopy


- Although the ‘Apapane is not endangered, it is vulnerable to the same problems that threaten other Hawaiian honeycreeper species".


References and further reading