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Photo by Peter LaTourrette.
The Kaua'i 'Amakihi is one of a group of small, closely related, island specific Hawaiian honeycreepers. This species was formerly considered a subspecies of the Common 'Amakihi but is endemic only to island of Kaua'i and is now granted full species status.
Small, olive green birds with black lores and short, curved bills. Somewhat similar in appearance to three other honeycreepers on Kaua'i but bill characteristics are mostly diagnostic between species. In behavior, uses its strong claws to cling to bark substrates while creeping along branches and trunks, also feeds among leaves and flowers. Call is a loud clerk.
The Kaua'i 'Amakihi is found only on the island of Kaua'i, where it was originally common in native forests which covered the entire island. The population was already decreasing in the late 1800s as low-elevation forests were cleared, predators and diseases were introduced, and grazing ungulates altered original habitats. While listed as moderately common in native forest above 600 meters in 1960, surveys in 1981 suggested that populations had increased significantly since 1968. It is thought that populations are currently increasing in areas where it occurs including Alakai Wilderness Preserve, Koke'e State Park, and in the Makaleha Mountains.
This species is considered one of the least specialized and most adaptable of all native Hawaiian forest birds. It forages alone, in pairs, or in loose flocks searching for insects, caterpillars, nectar, berries, and fruit. It has a fully tubular tongue and a curved bill that are adapted for taking nectar. It is found mostly in forests dominated by ohi'a (Metrosideros polymorpha), often with a strong mix of koa (Acacia koa), where it prefers low-stature trees. Nests are located solely in nonblooming ohi'a trees, mostly in the upper canopy.
As with other native Hawaiian birds, clearing of habitat, especially of lowland forests where it originally occurred had significant negative impacts. Current threats include the spread of avian malaria and pox by introduced mosquitoes, depredation from feral mammal populations, and habitat degredation from invasive plants enhanced by the activities if feral pigs.
Habitat for the species is protected in Alakai Wilderness Preserve and Kokee State Park and efforts in these locations to control feral animals and other invasive species will benefit the Kaua'i 'Amakihi. More research into the species biology and factors regulating its populations would be helpful in order to pinpoint any unforeseen threats that could be moderated. Clearly protection of more forested habitat and restoration of degraded habitat would benefit the species. Given the rapid unforeseen declines of some species of Hawaiian landbirds, it would be prudent to attempt to increase populations and range of Kaua'i 'Amakihi to decrease the long-term probability of extinction.
What Can You Do?
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. For more information visit: http://www.hear.org/
Support efforts to protect native forest habitat on Kaua'i 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.
BirdLife International (2006) Species factsheet: Hemignathus kauaiensis, Kaua'i 'Amakihi http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=8906&m=0
Lindsey, G. D. et. al. 1998. Hawaii 'Amakihi (Hemignathus virens), Kaua'i 'Amakihi (Hemignathus kauaiensis), Oahu 'Amakihi (Hemignathus chloris), Greater 'Amakihi (Hemignathus sagittirostris). In The Birds of North America, No. 360 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologist's Union, Washington, D.C.
Pratt, H. D. et. al. 1987. A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton UP, Princeton, New Jersey.