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This member of the Hawaiian honeycreeper family (Drepanididae) is found only in remote high-elevation rainforests of eastern Maui. First collected in 1892, it was then thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1950. Serious natural history studies were initiated in the 1980s, with the first confirmed nest being discovered in 1993.
Immediately recognized by its huge, strongly curved bill, the parrotbill is similar to only two species in its range. The Hawaii Amakihi (Hemignathus virens) is a smaller bird with a much thinner, more petite bill, while the Nukupuu (H. lucidus) has a thin upper mandible that is greatly elongated. In behavior the parrotbill moves deliberately in a parrot-like fashion, peeling away bark and lichen and crushing twigs in search of prey, and often hanging upside down. Its call is a loud "kzeet" and its song is a descending cascade "twee-twee-twee-twee-twee".
While fossil evidence suggests that this species may have once ranged throughout Maui, Molokai, and Lanai, historical records have come only from Maui. Distribution has apparently not changed since 1980. Today they are found in native montane forest above 1,200 meters on north-facing slopes of east Maui, mostly in remote, protected areas visited only by scientists.
Parrotbills move deliberately through moist and wet forest habitats using their specialized bills to chisel, pry, and split open bark, epiphytes, twigs, and fruit clusters in search of the larvae and pupae of borer insects. Their cup-like nests are located in the forks of branches in the outer canopy of mature ohi'a trees (Metrosideros polymorpha). Young birds are dependent on their parents for 5 months or more, so the species is often observed in family groups.
Feral mammals, especially pigs, have significantly degraded rainforest habitat and in some places the entire soil layer has been eroded away. This has led to loss of native species diversity and opened up niches for alien species to penetrate into remote areas. Due to the remoteness of this species' habitat, human impacts are limited to visits by scientists and fence construction crews. Mosquito-borne avian malaria and pox are of less importance than in other native birds (effecting 1% and 8% of the population respectively).
The species was federally listed as Endangered in 1967. It now occurs on lands owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii (Waikamoi Preserve), state of Hawaii (Hanawi Natural Area Preserve), and Haleakala National Park where intensive life history studies and management efforts are underway. Captive propagation efforts were initiated in 1997. Fences have been constructed to exclude large feral mammals and access has been restricted to reduce human impact from erosion and introduction of alien plants. The Nature Conservancy leads tours into Waikamoi Preserve.
What Can You Do?
The Endangered Species Act has helped protect the Maui Parrotbill and made it possible to learn critical information about its biology. 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 on Maui and throughout the Hawaiian Islands. For more information visit: http://www.hear.org/
Support efforts like the East Maui Watershed Partnership to protect native forest habitat on Maui by state and federal agencies and conservation organizations.
The recovery of the native Hawaiian species of endangered birds is a joint project of Zoological Society of San Diego, The Peregrine Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey, Hawaii's Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate, Kai Malino Ranch, Kealia Ranch, and McCandless Land and Cattle Company. This private/public partnership is dedicated to the restoration of threatened Hawaiian species. To learn more about The Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation program, visit http://www.sandiegozoo.org/conservation/fieldproject_hawaiian_birds.html
BirdLife International. 2000. Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge, UK.
BirdLife International (2006) Species factsheet: Pseudonestor xanthophrys, Maui Parrotbill http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=8905&m=0
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.
Simon, J. C. et. al. 1997. Maui Parrotbill (Pseudonestor xanthophrys). In The Birds of North America, No. 311 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologist's Union, Washington, D.C.