BIRD OF THE WEEK: 5/15/2015
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Palmeria dolei
POPULATION: 3,800 individuals
IUCN STATUS: Critically Endangered
TREND: Probably increasing
HABITAT: High-elevation rainforest on Maui
The 'Akohekohe has a distinctive, forward-sweeping white crest that gives the bird its English name, Crested Honeycreeper. The striking crest helps pollinate native plants as the bird moves from flower to flower while feeding.
Threats to this unique honeycreeper include habitat destruction by human settlers and their pigs, goats, and sheep; predation by non-native cats, rats, mongooses, and Barn Owls; and mosquito-borne diseases, which have devastated native bird populations. Historically, the 'Akohekohe's unusual appearance also made it desirable to collectors.
The wet, high-altitude rainforests where this species can be found are estimated to cover only 5 percent of the bird's original range. The 'Akohekohe was formerly found elsewhere on Maui, and also on the island of Moloka'i, where it is now considered extinct.
'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.
'Akohekohe usually feed on 'ohi'a flower nectar, but will take nectar from other native plants, as well as insects and fruits. Their breeding season coincides with 'ohi'a bloom, and multiple broods are common, with up to three clutches per year.
'Akohekohe were listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1967. It's a priority species for American Bird Conservancy and our partners.
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. The 'Akohekohe and its habitat also benefit from fencing that excludes these invasive animals from important reserves like the state's Hanawi Natural Area Reserve, Haleakalā National Park, and The Nature Conservancy's Waikamoi Preserve.
In 2009, we established our Hawai'i Program, a long-term conservation effort aimed at reversing the decline of endangered Hawaiian birds such as the 'Akohekohe, Maui Parrotbill, Millerbird, and Hawaiian Petrel.