This nectar feeding member of the honeycreeper family, with its brilliant scarlet body plumage and black wings and tail, abounds in the forest canopy where ‘ōhi‘a lehua blossoms are plentiful. The ‘i‘iwi's long, down curved, orange bill is specialized for sipping nectar from tubular flowers. The ‘i‘iwi’s "squeaky hinge” call can be heard throughout the forest when the birds are present.
Their diet consists primarily of nectar, but ‘i‘iwi also eat small arthropods.
Both sexes defend small nesting territories and may defend important nectar resources. Courtship chases and feeding may precede breeding. Nest sites are in terminal branches of ‘ōhi‘a trees and both sexes build the open-cup nest. Only females incubate eggs (typically two) and brood young. Young are mostly provisioned by female; males feed females off the nest.
Although ‘i‘iwi populations appear stable on the islands of Hawai‘i, Maui, and Kaua‘i, they are likely susceptible to the same factors that threaten other native Hawaiian forest birds, including: loss and degradation of habitat, predation by introduced mammals, and disease.
Like ‘apapane, ‘i‘iwi often fly long distances in search of flowering ‘ōhi‘a trees and are impprtant ‘ōhi‘a pollinators.
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The rare and endangered ‘akiapōlā‘au occurs in only a few areas of upper elevation koa/‘ōhi‘a forest on the Big Island. The ‘akiapōlā‘au feeds on insects and caterpillars living in the wood and under the bark of koa trees. Its bill is one of the most unusual in the honeycreeper family.