Endangered Species in the Pacific Islands
Crested Honeycreeper / Palmeria dolei / ‘Ākohekohe
||The ‘ākohekohe is 7 inches in length and is the largest of the honeycreepers on Maui. It is primarily black, and can appear to be entirely black in poor light, particularly if the bird is wet. The black feathers are tipped with gray on the breast and throat, whitish on the wing and tail tips, and the nape and body is speckled with orange. The ‘ākohekohe gets its name from its ragged white crest above the bill.
|Crested honeycreeper - Photo credit © Jack Jeffrey
Habitat & Behavior:
The boisterous ‘ākohekohe is found in rainforests that are at least 4,200 feet in elevation. It will aggressively chase off native rivals such as the ‘apapane and i‘iwi when competing for food. It usually feeds on ‘ōhi‘a flower nectar but will take nectar fron other native plants, and will eat insects and fruits. The ‘apapane is highly vocal with many different calls.
Past & Present:
Historically, 12 species of forest birds were found on Maui. One of these became extinct in this century and five of them are now endangered, with the ‘ākohekohe being one of them. The Hawaiian landscape today is a drastically modified version of the pristine conditions encountered by the first Polynesians some 1,400 years ago. Habitat degradation and destruction, human exploitation, predation, avian diseases, and competition with introduced species are all factors in the decline of the ‘ākohekohe and many other native forest birds.
‘Ākohekohe were abundant on Maui and Moloka‘i at the turn of the century, and were last seen on Moloka‘i in 1907. During a 1980 forest bird survey on Maui, 415 observations were recorded in an area of about 11,000 acres, ranging from 4,200 feet to 7,100 feet elevation. The total population is estimated at 3,800 birds, and appears to be broken into two major subpopulations separated by the Ko‘olau Gap. The Moloka‘i population is believed to be extinct today.
The first steps to protect native Hawaiian forests were taken in 1903 when the Hawaiian Territorial Government created the State Forest Reserve system, which provides essential habitat for the survival of all the endangered forest birds on Maui and Moloka‘i. Haleakala National Park, and The Nature Conservancy’s Kamakou and Waikamoi Preserves also provide important habitat for native plants and animals.
The ‘ākohekohe was listed as an endangered species on March 11, 1967, under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The first draft of the Maui-Moloka‘i Forest Bird Recovery Plan was published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1976 and served as a valuable guidance for research on the species. The Revised Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Forest Birds (2006) recommends continued partnerships with other agencies to protect essential forest bird habitat, continued support in the eradication of introduced plants and animals, habitat management in existing reserves, and enhancement of remaining forest bird habitat.