WatchList Species Account for ‘Akeke’e (Loxops caeruleirostris)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species

 

Akekee
Photo: Jack Jeffrey

The ‘Akeke’e, a small, active bird endemic to the mountains of Kaua’i, is one of the few endemics on that island with an apparently stable population. Relatively common in its montane forest habitat, it uses its laterally asymmetrical bill, with the lower mandible bent to one side, to pry open leaf and flower buds in search of arthropods. It forages almost exclusively on one native species of tree, the ‘ohi’a. It was historically more widespread on the island and now occupies only an estimated 10-12% of its original range. Though at present it occurs as low as 1,968 feet, its densest populations are above 3,600 feet.

 

Little information is known on its breeding, and in fact, its biology and natural history have never been the subject of long-range study. The species is probably preyed on by the native Short-eared Owl and introduced Barn Owl, in addition to rats. Like other Hawaiian passerines, the ‘Akeke’e is probably affected by avian malaria. Disease and habitat degradation from invasive non-native plants, in addition to destruction and erosion caused by alien pigs and ungulates, are the main threats to the bird, which depends so heavily on native vegetation.

 

Two hurricanes in recent years have caused severe damage to native forests, in addition to causing direct mortality on Kaua’i’s native birds. Basic research on the bird and information on peripheral and isolated populations are badly needed. Its long-term survival depends on the preservation and health of large tracts of native forest and control of non-native plants, disease vectors, alien predators, and alien birds. Vigilence is needed to prevent the introduction of the brown tree snake, which has already been captured at Hawaiian harbors and airports.