The Palila and the Māmane tree are two of Hawai'i's many species found nowhere else. The tree is essential to the bird: The Palila's hooked bill is just right for opening the tough, fibrous seedpods of Māmane, the bird's primary food.
This bird's survival and reproductive success depend on the reproductive success of the tree. In drought years when the Māmane seed crop is low, most Palila do not attempt to breed.
Big Island, Tiny Habitat
One of Hawai'i's unique honeycreepers, Palila are found in dry, open Māmane forests. They were once found on ‘Oahu, Kaua'i, and the Big Island, but today, cling to life in a tiny patch of habitat only on the Big Island: an area of about 25 square miles on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea Volcano. This remaining habitat of the Palila represents less than five percent of the species' historic range.
Introduced species — plants and animals imported from other parts of the world — are the six-inch bird's main problem. Escaped domestic sheep and mouflon sheep, brought as sport for hunters in the 1960s, have proliferated and destroy Māmane saplings and trees. These non-native animals are a major factor in the Palila's decline.
Non-native cats and mongooses, which eat eggs and nestlings, are another problem for the Palila. Palila are highly susceptible to non-native mosquito-borne diseases such as avian malaria, and climate change is expected to increase transmission within their remaining habitat.
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Plans for the Palila
The Palila was one of the first species federally listed as Endangered in 1967. In 2022, the population was estimated at fewer than 940 individuals.
Bringing back populations of the Palila is one of our Hawai'i Program's top priorities. We are working with partners to increase the Palila population by restoring native forest, maintaining the new fence around most of the federally designated Palila Critical Habitat to keep out sheep and goats, as well as engaging in predator control in the core area where most Palila breed.
We're also working with the Hawai'i Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the U.S. Geological Survey to provide annual population monitoring data on the species.
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 species.
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