WatchList Species Account for Po’ouli
(Melamprosops phaeosoma)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Photo: Jack Jeffrey

The Po’ouli, discovered only in 1973 in the rainforest wilderness of Haleakala Volcano on Maui, passed into extinction a scant 32 years after it was first observed, the last known individual dying in captivity in 2005.


At the time of the Po’ouli's discovery there were perhaps 200 individuals remaining, limited to only 1,483 acres of wet elfin forest on the windward slopes of the volcano.


The species fed largely on arthropods and, unusual for a Hawaiian honeycreeper, native snails, although it avoided the abundant but alien garlic snail. During the brief time it was known to science, just two nests were discovered, and much of the natural history we have on the Po’ouli comes from the observations of those two nests.


Unfortunately, the Po’ouli population suffered a 90% decline from 1975-1985, and by the late 1990s there were only three individuals remaining, two males and a possible female, with nonoverlapping ranges. Since there was no chance these birds would reproduce, the decision was made to capture and possibly breed the remaining birds in captivity. One was captured in September 2004 and taken to the Maui Bird Conservation Center, but died a few months later.


The decrease in the Po’ouli's numbers has been correlated with habitat damage caused by feral pigs, which invaded the bird's range unchecked in the late 1970s and 80s, resulting in intensive damage to the understory, soil erosion, and colonization by alien plants.


Mosquito-borne avian diseases were quite likely the cause of much of the bird’s decline. Predation by black rats, numerous in its habitat, was another factor, as were feral cats, which may have been the main predators on fledglings and adults. Overflights by helicopters used for tourism and for transporting natural resources personnel may have also disrupted behavior, including incubation and brooding.