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This smallish, plain-brown solitaire was endemic to wet, montane forests of Kauai, Hawaiian Islands. Formerly common and abundant, this species declined sharply during the 1900s with the last documented sighting in 1992. The spread of avian malaria by mosquitoes has been implicated as one significant cause for this decline.
The Hawaiian Islands had five species of New World solitaires in the genus Myadestes, all being more or less similar in appearance. Kama'o was distinguished in occurring on the island of Kauai, where it was endemic with only one other solitaire (Puaiohi, M. palmeri). The Kama'o was dentified by its dark legs and short, stubby bill, but was otherwise similar to the Puaiohi in being brown above and gray below. In behavior, it was a tame and easily approached bird that often drews attention to itself by emitting a shrill, high-pitched "police whistle" call. Like other Hawaiian solitaires it usually perched in an upright posture and quivered its wings and tail in nervous fashion.
Formerly widespread on the island of Kauai and ranging from sea level to montane forests, it was almost entirely restricted to the Alakai Swamp since 1970. Considered extremely common to abundant at the turn of the century, the population took a sharp downturn starting in the 1940s. By 1970, the total population was estimated to be 200-300 individuals, dropping to around 20 birds in a 1981 survey. The last documented sighting was in 1992 and the species is now considered likely extinct. Despite another unsubstantiated sighting in 1996, the overall population trend makes it unlikely that this species survives or will survive.
Breeding and nesting behavior is unknown for the Kama'o. This was a bird of dense, moist to wet forests, but mostly montane forests in recent decades. It was usually seen foraging in trees and shrubs, feeding on a wide variety of fruits, berries, and various invertebrates. The short, stubby bill was probably a modification for eating larger fruits than other Hawaiian solitaires.
The exact causes for the decline of this species are unknown, but it is likely that avian malaria and poxvirus spread by introduced mosquitoes have been a major factor. Habitat degradation, more recently caused by feral pigs, has facilitated the spread of introduced plants and mosquitoes into habitats once used by this solitaire. Predation by introduced mammals, especially rats, and competition from introduced birds likely contributed to the overall decline of this species.
The species was federally listed as Endangered in 1970. The highest priority would be conducting an intensive survey to locate remaining individuals, or small breeding populations if any are left. Such a discovery would necessitate the launching of a captive propagation program like those carried out for the Oma'o and Puaiohi. Additional efforts would include determining and protecting key habitats, controlling feral animals and noxious weeds, and limiting human disturbance. Continued protection for the Alakai Wilderness Preserve (established in 1964) and an additional 7,890 hectares identified as critical habitat would be important short-term safeguards to protect the possibility that undetected Kama'o remain and have habitat to use.
What Can You Do?
Although the Endangered Species Act may have been too late to prevent the extinction of the Kama'o, it does protect and provide resources for many species. Audubon continues to work to ensure that this vital legislation is being used to protect our publicly-owned wildlife resources. Check out http://www.audubon.org/campaign/ to learn of the latest news about the Endangered Species Act and how you can help. To learn more about other species protected under this legislation, visit: http://endangered.fws.gov/
Join Hawaii Audubon Society. A chapter of National Audubon, the Hawaii Audubon Society works to protect and educate people about Hawaii's birds. For more information visit http://www.audubon.org/states/hi/
Support efforts to control feral animals and invasive plants and insects throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
Support efforts to protect native forest habitat on Kauai by state and federal agencies and conservation organizations.
BirdLife International. 2000. Threatened Birds of the world. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge, UK.
Clement, P. 2000. Thrushes. Princeton UP, Princeton, New Jersey.
Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1992. Birds in Jeopardy. Stanford University, Stanford, CA.
Pratt, H. D. et. al. 1987. A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton UP, Princeton, New Jersey.
Wakelee, K. M., and S. G. Fancy. 1999. Oma'o (Myadestes obscurus), Oloma'o (Myadestes lanaiensis), Kama'o (Myadestes myadestinus), Amaui (Myadestes woahensis). In The Birds of North America, No. 460 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologist's Union, Washington, D.C.