BIRD OF THE WEEK: Feb. 17, 2017 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Loxops caeruleirostris
POPULATION: 310-1,000
IUCN STATUS: Critically Endangered
TREND: Decreasing
HABITAT: High-elevation native forests on the island of Kaua‘i

ʻAkekeʻe map, Birds of North America, birdsna.org

ʻAkekeʻe map courtesy of “Birds of North America” https://birdsna.org, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY

The ‘Akeke‘e, a small Hawaiian honeycreeper, is notable for its asymmetric bill. Its name was likely derived from the Hawaiian word ke'e, meaning "crooked" or "bent." Its genus name, Loxops, derives from the Greek for "twisted face," again referring to its crossed bill.

Introduced species, particularly mosquitoes that carry avian malaria and pox, have decimated ‘Akeke‘e and other native birds, including ‘I‘iwi, ‘Akikiki, and Maui Parrotbill.

Habitat loss and non-native rats and plants are also contributing to the ‘Akeke‘e's population crash.

The ‘Akeke‘e was federally listed as Endangered in 2010 and is on the current State of the Birds Watch List. The species has declined 98 percent over the last 25 years, and is at serious risk of extinction in the next decade.

‘Akeke‘e are found only on the island of Kaua‘i, where they are confined to forests above 3,600 feet–places formerly too cool for mosquitoes. Unfortunately, the warming climate is allowing mosquito populations to expand even into this last remaining refuge.

The Crossbill Connection

The ‘Akeke‘e's specialized bill, with offset tips similar to those of its distant relatives the crossbills, allows it to pry open the buds of ‘ōhi‘a leaves and flowers in search of spiders, caterpillars, and other arthropod prey. It occasionally feeds on the nectar of some trees.

It forages mostly alone or in pairs, probing through 'ohi'a leaf clusters with characteristic quick, deliberate movements that can help identify the species from quite a distance.


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Mysterious Mating Rituals

‘Akeke‘e pairs build open-cup nests of mosses in the uppermost branches of 'ohi'a trees. The male defends a small territory around the immediate vicinity of the nest, chasing away other species of Hawaiian honeycreepers, which may try to steal nesting material for their own nests.

The breeding season begins in March, and chicks probably fledge by mid-July. There is still much to be learned about ‘Akeke‘e biology; scientists suspect that chick care is similar to that of the closely related Hawai'i ‘Akepa, which feeds with parents in family groups or in mixed-species flocks for several months after fledging.

‘Akeke‘e can likely build multiple nests in a season, since most honeycreeper species re-nest after a failed nesting attempt.

'Akeke'e, Jim Denny

'Akeke'e by Jim Denny

Whisper Songs

The ‘Akeke‘e's song is a quick, high-pitched trill, heard throughout the year. Like other Hawaiian forest birds, it tends to sing throughout the day, particularly during cool, foggy periods. ‘Akeke‘e also produce extended soft vocalizations called “whisper songs,” which consist of short repeated notes, mimicry of other species' calls, and fragments of the species' own song. Whisper songs are sung by both males and females while perched or during foraging.

Last Stand on Kaua‘i

ABC's Hawai‘i Program is working to protect remaining critical habitat for ‘Akeke‘e and other native Hawaiian forest birds along with partner groups including the Kaua‘i Forest Bird Recovery Project and the Hawai‘i Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

Although it is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), ‘Akeke‘e and other native Hawaiian birds receive only a small percentage of the federal and state funds dedicated to endangered species recovery. But these populations can recover, as is shown by the success stories of other once-threatened species including the Bald Eagle and Brown Pelican. Read more about the successes of the ESA and why it is still so important.

Mosquito-borne diseases and habitat loss are not the only threats to these birds. Recent proposals to roll back protections under the Endangered Species Act and reduce the funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are also of grave concern. Learn more about how you can help.


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