Endangered Species in the Pacific Islands
Palila / Loxioides bailleui
||The palila is a finch-billed honeycreeper with a golden-yellow head and breast, gray back, and gray/white belly. The female and immature birds are more subdued in color. Their finch-like bill is dark on adults and orange on fledglings. One of the larger honeycreepers, the palila measures 6 to 7 inches.
|Palila - Photo credit © Jack Jeffrey
Habitat & Behavior:
The palila can only be found in 6,000 to 9,000 feet elevations on the slopes of Mauna Kea on the Big Island. This rare forestbird is very selective because it thrives in specific native ecosystems, relying on green mamane tree pads for 90% of its food.
The palili has a short call as well as a long melodious song. This active bird also eats insects, naio berries, and mamane flowers, buds, and young leaves. The palila breeds from February to September and usually lays two eggs.
Past & Present:
Historically, the palila is known only from the island of Hawai‘i. In prehistoric times, palila also occurred at low elevation sites on O‘ahu. Scientists as early as 1944 believed the bird was near extinction. In 1975, there were an estimated 1,614 palila. Annual surveys, beginning in 1980, have documented an estimated 3,000 individuals remaining today, 95% of which occur on the southwest slope of Mauna Kea.
The palila is threatened by invasive alien plants that compete with native species; predators such as cats and rats, feral ungulate grazing and browsing that destroys native vegetation; and fire.
The palila was listed as an endangered species on March 11, 1967. This listing triggered a considerable amount of research on the bird and its habitat. The recovery plan for the palila was originally published in 1977 and updated in 1986. The palila is now included in the Revised Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Forest Birds (2006). Critical habitat on Mauna Kea located on the Island of Hawai‘i (Big Island) was designated by the Federal government in 1977. A 1978 Federal court ruling required that all feral sheep and goats be removed from palila critical habitat. Scientists continue their quest to save this rare forestbird by monitoring its life cycle, fencing critical habitat to keep out feral animals, promoting mamane tree revegetation, and efforts to establish new palila populations in suitable habitat on Mauna Lea and elsewhere on the Big Island.