Like so many island species, the 'I'iwi is beautifully adapted to the plants that share its evolutionary history. 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 archipelago, but this stunning honeycreeper has disappeared from most of its former range. One of the issues it faces is climate change.
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.
The 'I'iwi is now mostly found in habitats above 4,000 feet, out of mosquito range. But that “safe” range continues to shrink as global climate change warms the high mountain forest, bringing the disease-bearing mosquitoes with it. An altitudinal migrant, the 'I'iwi follows the flowering of nectar-producing plants up and down the mountain slopes throughout the year, which also bring the species within mosquito range.
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Habitat loss and the introduction of invasive plants and animals pose additional threats to the 'I'iwi and other Hawaiian birds. In fact, few people realize how many of the birds found in Hawai'i actually belong someplace else! Free-roaming and feral cats, in particular, are "unwelcome neighbors" for native Hawaiian species.
When it comes to preventing species extinctions on Hawai'i, there is no time to waste. In 2009, ABC and partners launched a wide-ranging program to protect Hawai'i's native birds. The 2009 State of the Birds report, co-authored by ABC, triggered $2 million dollars in federal support for the birds of Hawai'i.
ABC's Hawai'i Program is working with the Hawai'i Division of Forestry and Wildlife and other partners on forest restoration projects—including the species' preferred 'ohi'a, koa, and mamane trees—on the Big Island and Maui. These projects improve habitat conditions for 'I'iwi and other threatened forest birds such as Palila and Maui Parrotbill.
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