Bird of the Week: ‘Ākohekohe

 

The ‘Ākohekohe has a distinctive, forward-sweeping white crest that gives the bird its English name, Crested Honeycreeper. The striking crest helps pollinate native plants as the bird moves from flower to flower while feeding.

 

Threats to this unique honeycreeper include habitat destruction by human settlers and their pigs, goats, and sheep; predation by non-native cats, rats, mongooses, and Barn Owls; and mosquito-borne diseases, which have devastated native bird populations. Historically, the ʻĀkohekohe’s unusual appearance also made it desirable to collectors.

 

 

Last Stand on Maui

 

The wet, high-altitude rainforests where this species can be found are estimated to cover only 5 percent of its original range. The ‘Ākohekohe was formerly found elsewhere on Maui, and also on the island of Molokaʻi, where it is now considered extinct.

 

‘Ākohekohe maintain year-round territories around their nests or nectar sources. They are highly aggressive and territorial, chasing off native rivals such as the ‘Apapane and ‘I‘iwi when competing for food. ‘Ākohekohe usually feed on ‘ōhi‘a flower nectar, but will take nectar from other native plants, as well as insects and fruits. Their breeding season coincides with ‘ōhi‘a bloom, and multiple broods are common, with up to three clutches per year.

 

Ongoing Conservation Efforts

 

‘Ākohekohe were listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1967. Ongoing conservation measures for the species include protecting and restoring native forest – particularly above the mosquito zone – and removal of feral ungulates. The ‘Ākohekohe and its habitat also benefit from fencing that excludes these hoofed mammals from important reserves like the state’s Hanawi Natural Area Reserve, Haleakalā National Park, and The Nature Conservancy’s Waikamoi Preserve.

 

In 2009, ABC established its Hawai‘i Program, a long-term conservation effort aimed at reversing the decline of endangered Hawaiian birds such as the 'Ākohekohe, Maui Parrotbill, Millerbird, and Hawaiian Petrel.