The blazing orange ‘Ākepa from the Big Island

Posted by Joanna Maney on

The ‘Ākepa marks the first in a series of up close and personal portrait illustrations of Hawaiian forest birds I've been illustrating. The Hawai‘i ‘ākepa is a small, endemic(found only here) Hawaiian honeycreeper. ‘Ākepa also used to be found on Maui and O‘ahu but both are likely extinct. The only remaining population is listed as Endangered and found only on the Big Island with the highest density of population along the Pua ‘Ākala tract of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, an area with large, older trees. Most of the current range of the Hawai‘i ‘ākepa is managed by State and Federal agencies or private conservation partnerships.

-Adult males have blazing bright orange feathers and females are grayish-green with a yellow breast band.

-Their top and lower beak parts (mandibles) don’t exactly match up, the bottom being bent slightly to either the right or left, a characteristic they share with Kaua‘i’s ‘akeke‘e. Interestingly, they also have differences in leg length with the leg opposite the curve in the mandible being slightly longer than the other leg which likely helps with foraging.

-They feed mainly on ‘ōhi‘a leaf clusters, but also on koa leaves and seed pods. They use their beaks to pry open flower buds in search of insects.

-‘Ākepa like to nest inside cavities of large tree trunks, like koa and ‘ōhi‘a. Both parents feed the young, which remain with their parents for 2-3 months after flying.

-The Hawai‘i ‘ākepa is not found below 1,300 meters (4,300 feet), which suggests that it is particularly susceptible to mosquito-borne diseases. For more info on what’s in the works to manage these deadly mosquito populations, follow the BirdsNotMosquitoes Facebook group or visit

For more reading about the beautiful ‘ākepa

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