The Palila and the mamane tree are two of Hawai'i's many species found nowhere else. The tree is essential to the bird: The Palila's hooked bill is just right for opening the tough, fibrous seedpods of mamane, the bird's primary food.
This bird's survival and reproductive success depend on the reproductive success of the tree. In drought years when the mamane seed crop is low, most Palila do not attempt to breed.
One of Hawai'i's unique honeycreepers, Palila are found in dry, open mamane forests. They were once found on Oahu, Kaua'i, and the Big Island, but today, cling to life in a tiny patch of habitat on the Big Island: an area of about 25 square miles on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea Volcano. This remaining habitat of the Palila represents less than five percent of the species' historic range.
Introduced species—plants and animals imported from other parts of the world—are the six-inch bird's main problem. Escaped domestic sheep and mouflon sheep, brought as sport for hunters in the 1960s, have proliferated and destroy mamane saplings and trees. These non-native animals are a major factor in the Palila's decline.
Non-native cats and mongooses, which eat eggs and nestlings, are another problem for the Palila. Palila are highly susceptible to non-native mosquito-borne diseases, and climate change is expected to increase transmission within their remaining habitat.
The Palila was one of the first species federally listed as Endangered in 1967. There are still only about 2,000 Palila in existence, so the species was included on the 2014 Watch List.
Bringing back populations of the Palila is one of our Hawai'i Program's top priorities. We are working with partners to increase the Palila population by restoring native forest, maintaining the new fence around most of the federally designated Palila Critical Habitat to keep out sheep and goats, as well as engaging in predator control in the core area where most Palila breed.
We're also working with the Hawai'i Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the U.S. Geological Survey to provide annual population monitoring data on the species.