`Elepaio

Chasiempis sandwichensis sandwichensis
Hawaii elepaio

The `elepaio is the only member of the very large (over 300 species) Old World flycatcher family to successfully colonize the Hawaiian Islands naturally.

A different subspecies is found on Kaua`i and O`ahu, and three distinct subspecies are found on Hawai`i. There is no evidence that it ever existed on Maui, Moloka`i, or Lana`i. `Elepaio inhabit a wide range of native forests such as `ohi`a-lehua, koa, mamane, and naio, and are one of the few Hawaiian bird species that are known to occasionally inhabit forests dominated by introduced vegetation such as guava.

They are 5 inches in length. Upper parts are brown; under parts are whitish, with a white rump and white bars on dark wings. The tail is long, brownish-black and often held up at an angle. Juveniles are more evenly brown, and lack the white rump. Considerable variation in color exists between islands, and among the three Hawai`i Island subspecies. `Elepaio are fairly common on Hawaii and Kaua`i but are rare on O`ahu where they are now listed as endangered. Loss of habitat, introduced diseases, and introduced predators such as rats are the primary threats to `elepaio on O`ahu.

A loud whistle that sounds like "el-e-pai-o." Both sexes sing, and the singing is especially pronounced during courtship and nest-building stages. `Elepaio also give a distinct alarm call that signals the presence of the `Io (Hawaiian hawk) which are known predators of `elepaio and other forest bird species. Researchers have found that both `elepaio and other species respond to the alarms.

Breeding season extends from January to June. The small cup-shaped nests are woven from a wide variety of vegetation, including grasses, rootlets, and lichens, and may be held together by spider webs. Clutch size is usually two eggs, and a long incubation period of 18 days.

Their food consists nearly exclusively of insects and spiders. `Elepaio are very versatile foragers, utilizing the full range of the forest to obtain their prey.

Facts About `Elepaio

Hawai`i `elepaio are inquisitive, and can easily be coaxed to an observer. They are the guardian spirit of canoe makers who recognized that the frequent use of a particular koa tree by an `elepaio was an indication the tree was likely to harbor a large insect population, and may therefore be undesirable for use as a canoe.