WatchList Species Account for Palila (Loxioides bailleui)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Photo: Jack Jeffrey

Read about ABC's efforts to save the Palila here


Prior to the arrival of the Polynesians, the Palila was found on Oahu, Kauaʻi and the island of Hawaii, but it was extirpated on Oahu and Kauaʻi well before the 19th century. The species is limited to the upper slopes of Mauna Kea Volcano on the island of Hawaii, almost entirely on the western side, at approximately 6,500 to 9,800 feet in elevation. It was once common on the eastern and southern slopes, but is now found there less frequently and in low numbers. The last observation on Mauna Loa was more than 50 years ago.


Like most other native Hawaiian passerines, the Palila has become stranded in the uppermost part of its historic range; in this case, about 52 square miles of dry to mesic subalpine forest, with the majority of the birds found within an area of only seven square miles. There they are found in dry, open forests of mamane and mamane-naio, where they use their heavy, parrot-like bills to feed on their preferred food, mamane seed pods, though they also eat other parts of the tree, including flower parts and nectar, leaf buds, and young leaves, while also gleaning insects from leaves, branches, and the trunk. Dependence on this one food source means that this bird’s survival and reproductive success depend on the crop of mamane seeds; in drought years when the crop is low, most Palilas do not attempt to breed.


Among the problems the Palila has faced is overbrowsing by ungulates, which seriously degraded the dry forest. Removal of goats and sheep has improved the situation, and mamane and many other native plants are regenerating. However, the Palila shows strong site tenacity, and does not readily recolonize newly suitable habitat. Researchers translocated some Palila to these newly reforested areas, and introduced others from a captive breeding program; unfortunately, the translocated birds tended to return to the area from which they had been removed.


Predation by cats and rats poses a problem as well, but state and federal agencies have begun programs to control these introduced predators. The Palila’s habitat is accessible and easily observed; annual population censuses yield numbers which have varied from 1,584 to 5,685 in recent years, with no trends apparent.


The bird is federally listed as endangered and classified also as endangered under IUCN-World Conservation Union criteria.