True to its name, the Maui Parrotbill has a heavy, specialized bill. It's used to split branches and extract insect larvae, the bird's primary prey.
Maui Parrotbill map, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Map courtesy of “Birds of North America”, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY

Maui Parrotbills live as long as 16 years, choosing a single mate and remaining loyal throughout their lives. Reproducing slowly, usually producing only a single chick every year or two, the young birds mature slowly, too. Immature birds remain with their parents from five months to over a year.

Hawai'i's Vanishing Honeycreepers

Like the Palila, this husky bird is just one of Hawai'i's amazing honeycreepers. This bird is so uncommon that it had no Hawaiian name, or its Hawaiian name was lost. The species was thought to be extinct during the first half of the 1900s. In 2010, in celebration of its heritage and survival, the Maui Parrotbill was given the name "Kiwikiu" in a mele inoa, or naming chant. However, the species is still critically endangered, and population estimates number approximately 500 birds.

Hawai'i, known as a tropical paradise, is also the bird extinction capital of the world. After humans first arrived, 71 species went extinct, and another 24 have vanished since Captain James Cook's “discovery” of Hawai'i in 1778.

Tragically, although it is listed under the Endangered Species Act, this and other native Hawaiian birds receive only a small percentage of the federal and state funds dedicated to endangered species recovery.

Maui and Mosquitoes

The parrotbill was once widespread on the islands of Maui and Moloka'i. Now, it's found only within a 19-square-mile area of remote, high-elevation forests on Maui's eastern, or windward, side.

Introduced mosquitoes and other invasive species are a big part of the problem. The non-native mosquitoes carry diseases to which native birds have little to no resistance, including avian malaria and avian pox.

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Other non-native species imported to the islands, such as feral cats, feral pigs, rats, and mongooses also take a toll on the parrotbill. (More about free-roaming cats and Hawaiian birds.) No list of threats would be complete without mention of habitat loss and climate change, which reduces suitable habitat.

New Parrotbill Population

Maui Parrotbill female, Kendall Watkins

Maui Parrotbill female by Kendall Watkins

The Maui Parrotbill is one of the top priorities of our Hawai'i Program. In one of our projects, we're planning to establish a second population of the parrotbill, working with partners including the Hawai'i Department of Forestry and Wildlife, Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, and the Zoological Society of San Diego.

This new “insurance” population will be established on the leeward side of east Maui using wild, translocated, and captive-reared birds. The long-term goal: Double the number of parrotbills.

We're optimistic about our chances of success, because the chosen new habitat is drier, making mosquitoes less numerous, and winter storms are less frequent. Planning and site preparation for this translocation are well underway.

Get Involved

We welcome all and every effort to help us "bring back the birds." If you would like to make a donation, please click here. Or visit our Get Involved page to learn more about how you can help. Together, we can make a difference for this special bird.

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