BIRD OF THE WEEK: 5/29/2015
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Himatione sanguinea
POPULATION: 1,300,000 individuals
HABITAT: Wet, high-elevation native forests
The bright crimson feathers of the ‘Apapane were prized by native Hawaiians, who used them to adorn the capes, helmets, and feather leis of Hawaiian nobility.
This native honeycreeper, like the 'I'iwi, has one of the highest rates of avian malaria due to its seasonal migrations to lower-elevation forests. The ‘Apapane has about a 60 percent mortality from the mosquito-borne disease. The species is also threatened by introduced predators and loss of native forest to introduced livestock, agriculture, and development.
The ʻApapane is found on the Big Island, Maui, Lanaʻi, Kauaʻi, Molokaʻi, and Oʻahu. More than 80 percent of the population occurs on the Big Island, where the birds live in higher-elevation ʻohiʻa forests, especially in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. There are also sizeable populations on both Maui and Kauaʻi. Molokaʻi and O‘ahu shelter healthy populations, and a small relict population exists on Lanaʻi.
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‘Apapane have brush-tipped tongues adapted for sipping nectar. They rely heavily on the nectar of ‘ohi‘a flowers, and are important pollinators of this tree. The birds wander widely on their home islands, following the blooming patterns of native trees. Although ʻApapane primarily feed on nectar, the birds also consume a variety of insects.
Males are well-known singers. They have at least six different calls and ten different song patterns, including a wide variety of squeaks, whistles, rasping notes, clicking sounds, and melodic trills.
Although the ‘Apapane is not endangered, it is vulnerable to the same problems that threaten other Hawaiian honeycreeper species. Non-native pigs create habitat where mosquitoes breed, while other non-native mammals–goats, deer, and cattle–destroy the forest.
Protecting the native forest from development, conversion to agriculture, and highly invasive non-native weeds is also important, as is the control of rats and cats, which prey on eggs and adults.
Increased detections of ‘Apapane in low-elevation forest are a hopeful sign that this species, like the Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi, might be developing a resistance to mosquito-borne diseases.
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