WatchList Species Account for 'Akikiki (Oreomystis bairdi)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Photo: Jack Jeffrey

Endemic to Kaua'i and found only in mesic to wet montane forests from 1,968-3,600 feet in the central section of that island, the 'Akikiki is also called the Kaua'i Creeper for its behavior when foraging, reminiscent of a nuthatch. It feeds mostly on insects gleaned from the bark and leaves of native trees and shrubs. Once common, it has retreated to the more remote parts of its very limited range, a matter of great concern, as this follows the pattern of other Kaua'i forest birds now either extinct or critically endangered. For example, the bird was once common in Koke’e State Park, but has not been found there since 1981.


Found in the early 20th century in all the island’s forests from approximately 980 to 1,960 feet, the 'Akikiki may be confined to its current range by disease, not habitat; in fact, its current population may be relict due to the drastic alterations and losses of more optimum lowland habitat. To add to this, hurricanes in 1982 and 1992 had a heavy impact on habitats for native forest birds on the island, defoliating and toppling trees and facilitating the spread of several highly invasive non-native plants.


As its range has contracted, estimates of the bird's population have declined by 64% between surveys in 1973 and 2000; current estimates show the population numbers at no more than 1,000 birds. The most recent survey found few individuals and low densities in its range, both causes for great concern.


The 'Akikiki faces the same threats that have devastated other Hawaiian native birds, including habitat degradation and loss due to introduced plants and animals; introduced predators such as rats, cats and barn owls; and mortality from malaria and avian pox at elevations below 3,400 feet.


Programs for eliminating pigs have been successful elsewhere in the Hawaiian Islands and should be implemented here. Managers should be alert to the possible introduction of the brown tree snake, which devastated the native birds of Guam. Basic research on the bird is needed, as it has never been the subject of a study and it is one of the least understood of the native Hawaiian birds.


Other suggested measures to benefit the 'Akikiki are the elimination of rats and feral cats from its range, and the elimination of feral goats, deer and pigs; the latter, numerous in the Alaka’i Swamp, eliminates understory species and creates breeding areas for mosquitoes.