Say hello to Hawai‘i's eminently adorable but greatest at risk forest bird—the cute, round, ʻakikiki, or Kauaʻi creeper. These little birds have gray to greenish tops with white throats and underbellies. Their legs and beak are peachy-pink. Only found on the island of Kauaʻi, at last year’s count, there are only thought to be 45 individuals left in the wild. They represent the only member of their genus, Oreomystis.
These social birds are often found together in small flocks or pairs. They like tall, old trees where they can nest and forage for insects and spiders. They lay 1-2 eggs and both mom and dad feed the chicks. It’s likely the entire wild population exists in just under 14 sq. miles of territory in the Alaka‘i Wilderness Preserve. Like all the other native Hawaiian forest birds, the ʻakikiki, is susceptible to disease spread by mosquito bites. A small percentage of ʻakikiki have shown a level of avian malaria resistance, but the population has declined so much in the meantime, the gain in resistance is not likely to increase population size.
Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and Hurricane Iniki in 1992 likely caused the death of a number of individuals. They are also at risk from loss of habitat and habitat degradation incurred from non-native wild pigs and goats that change the environment. It’s thought they might have been affected by populations of non-native birds as well, especially the introduced Japanese white-eyes and bush warblers. Also negatively affecting the ‘akikiki may be non-native insects like yellow jackets and ants who compete with or prey on the native bugs ‘akikiki eat. And with predation by non-native animals like rats, cats, and barn owls, and a shrinking genetic pool, the odds are stacked against these adorable little birds.
There is some hope, however, in reducing deadly mosquito populations and reintroduction through captive breeding programs. For more info visit: https://kauaiforestbirds.org/mosquito-faq/