Endangered Species in the Pacific Islands
Nihoa Finch / Telespyza ultima
||The Nihoa finch is very similar to the Laysan finch but smaller. The male has a bright yellow head, neck, and breast with a broad grey band between the neck and mid-back. The lower back and rump of the male are gray.
Females have a yellow throat and breast streaked with brown, the head and back are brown streaked with black. It measures about 6 inches in length.
Nihoa finch - Photo credit Craig Rowland/USFWS
Habitat & Behavior:
The Nihoa finch lives only on the island of Nihoa, 250 miles northwest of O‘ahu. It prefers open but vegetated habitat throughout the island. Nihoa finches build their nests in small holes in rock outcrops 100 to 800 feet above sea level. Egg laying begins in February and may extend to early July, with an average clutch of three eggs.
This bird feeds on seabird eggs, insects, seeds, and flower buds. The Nihoa finch whistles, trills, and warbles loudly and melodiously. Males are showy when singing, holding their wings horizontally away from their bodies and sometimes swaying back and forth. The distress call is a loud, harsh chip.
Past & Present:
Nihoa was once inhabited by early Polynesians, but few people since then have even dared to take on the rough seas and sheer cliffs of the remote island. Historical records on the Nihoa finch are very scant, but in 1985, their population was estimated to be 3,200 birds. Population estimates from the last 30 years range between 900 and 6,600 birds. The 2009 population estimate was 2,837 plus or minus 690 Nihoa finches. Forty-two finches were transplanted to French Frigate Shoals in 1967 in an effort to ensure the survival of a wild population, but the project was not successful.
The Nihoa finch was listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on March 11, 1967. Nihoa is part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge which provides protected habitat for the Nihoa finch. Typical of small island ecosystems, Nihoa is very vulnerable to introduced species and human disturbance, therefore access to the island is authorized only with a Monument Permit.
In 2006, the Service contracted an assessment and valuing of potential translocation sites for the Nihoa finch. Establishing additional populations will reduce the extinction risk for this species by improving its distribution and increasing total numbers.