See that intensity? It's because they're only 600(ish) of his kind left

Posted by Joanna Maney on

Today’s portrait is of the beautiful Palila from the island of Hawai’i. Palila are honeycreepers with finch-like bills and a preference for living and foraging among māmane trees.

Both sexes look similar but males are a bit brighter and have black masks, females have a more gray mask. Palila are the chunkiest Hawaiian honeycreepers, weighing in around 1.34 oz.

Almost all of the palila’s diet consists of immature māmane seeds but they also eat the flowers, buds, and leaves, in addition to naio berries and caterpillars. The amount of green māmane seeds produced in a season will influence nesting behavior. If the māmane are not producing much, some palila pairs won’t even attempt to nest that year.

Palila are found on the western slopes of Mauna Kea at elevations between 6,500 – 9,250 ft. Successful breeding is mostly contained within 11.5 sq. mile area. Historically, these lovely birds used to be common in all māmane forests but now the species only survives in about 10% of their original range. Fossil evidence indicates palila used to live on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i islands as well.

Island bird lovers have been reporting that palila are not appearing in their usual places in their usual numbers and this is raising fears for these precious birds. Reduced to such small numbers, possibly less than 600 birds, and existing mostly in one central location makes these Critically Endangered birds extremely vulnerable.

Feral goats, sheep, and pigs (ungulates) are bad for the health of māmane trees and negatively affect seed output by limited new growth and eating away at other native plants, causing erosion. Palila are at risk, like all native forest birds, from mosquito borne diseases and non-native predators like rats, mongoose, and feral cats.

The San Diego Zoo has a program for captive breeding the palila on Hawai‘i Island at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center. In 2019, half a dozen birds were released in restored forest on the island in order to establish a 2nd population. There is also hope in the program to reduce mosquito populations using the already naturally occurring Wolbachia bacteria as a form mosquito birth control. For more info visit

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