Endangered Species in the Pacific Islands
Nuku pu‘u / Hemignathus lucidus
||Two subspecies of endemic nuku pu‘u are found in Hawai‘i: the Maui nuku pu‘u (Hemignathus lucidus affinus) and the Kaua‘i nuku pu‘u (Hemignathus lucidus hanapepe). The O‘ahu nuku pu‘u is extinct. The remaining two species are two of the rarest honeycreepers in Hawai‘i. They measure four and a half to five and half inches in length.
The male nuku pu‘u is bright yellow with a yellow-green (Kaua‘i) or grayish-green (Maui) back, and a white (Kaua‘i) or yellow (Maui) belly and undertail coverts. The female is smaller and duller, and has a smaller bill. They have long downcurved mandibles; the top longer than the lower. Nuku pu‘u have short tails, black bills and legs, and a black streak that extends from their eyes to their bill.
|Hawai‘i Nuku pu‘u - Painting by Sheryl Ives Boynton
Habitat & Behavior:
The native nuku pu‘u lives in forests that are 4,000 feet or more in elevation. Both species keep company with other native honeycreepers, such as the Maui parrotbills and the Po‘ouli. It feeds on spiders, caterpillars, and weevils found in tree bark. It rarely forages for nectar from understory flowers. The nuku pu‘u likes dense and wet native forests. They have a short trill song, and a distinct “kee-wit” call.
Past & Present:
The Maui nuku pu‘u was reported to only be found in the northwest koa forest of Haleakala in the late 19th century. It was not seen again until 1967 when four were seen in Kipahulu Valley in ‘ōhi‘a forest above 5,600 feet elevation. During the 1980 Hawaiian Forest Bird Survey, only a single nuku pu‘u was seen. This is one of the rarest honeycreepers known on Maui, with an estimated population at this time of 28 birds. One Kaua‘i nuku pu‘u was seen in 1987 and two were heard in 1995. The third nuku pu‘u species, the O‘ahu nuku pu‘u, is believed to be extinct.
Land clearing, introduction of alien plants and animals, disease, and fire have all contributed to the drastic decline of our native forest birds. Because higher elevation forests are harder to reach by humans and disease-carrying mosquitoes, most of today’s populations live in the remaining high elevation forests. However, introduced plants (tsugi pine, Azores firetree) and animals (red-billed leothrix, house finch) likely compete with them for food. Predators such as rats and cats are also a factor in the decline and continued small populations of native forest birds.
The Forest Reserve Act of 1903 and the Hawaiian Territorial Legislature law to protect native perching birds were important beginnings to protecting habitats for the native forest birds. The establishment of the Hawai‘i Audubon Society in 1939 contributed to bringing more attention to the crisis of Hawai‘i’s native species. Government and private landowners are working together to keep grazing and feral animals under control in order to protect habitat for Hawai‘i’s native species.
The nuku pu‘u was listed as an endangered species in 1967 and 1970 under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The nuku pu‘u is included in the Revised Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Forest Birds (2006).