The Honeycreeper sportin' the Best Do

Posted by Joanna Maney on

The only Hawaiian honeycreeper with a crested head, ‘ākohekohe (“AH-koh-heh-koh-heh”), lives in Maui Nui—the islands of Maui, Moloka‘i, Lāna‘i, and Kaho‘olawe. They are the largest honeycreepers still surviving in Maui Nui and are Critically Endangered. 

Their plumage is pretty spectacular, they have silvery-blue-gray speckles flecked across their mostly black bodies and they are peppered with variations of citrusy orange, yellow, and white tipped feathers throughout. But best of all they have the bird version of a pompadour hairstyle which crowns a plume of curled white feathers across the top of their lovely heads.  

Their Hawaiian name, ʻākohekohe, comes from one of their slightly less than melodic calls, other noises being whistles, buzzes, and croaks. They mostly eat flower nectar and are especially fond of ‘ōhi‘a lehua but also eat the bugs they find in trees. Their cup-shaped nests are most commonly found in ‘ōhi‘a trees where they lay 1-2 eggs and raise 2-3 sets of fledglings each season.

Most of the population exists in less than a 10 sq. mile area on the northeast slope of Haleakalā on Maui at an elevation of 5,000 – 7,000 feet. Fossil evidence shows they once lived in Maui’s lower and dryer forests as well as eastern Moloka‘i. They only exist now in an estimated 5% of their original range and this is largely due to habitat loss and degradation by introduced (and now wild) farm animals like sheep, goats, and pigs. They are also hunted by non-native predators like cats, mongoose, and rats. ‘Ākohekohe become more vulnerable as their genetic pool shrinks into smaller and smaller populations and their limited range puts them in greater danger of being lost to extinction by natural disasters such as storms. 

‘Ākohekohe are also very susceptible to the mosquito-borne diseases that threaten all native Hawaiian forest birds—avian pox and avian malaria. Sadly, just one mosquito bite is often enough to kill a bird. Their population was estimated to number around 1,650 individuals when counted in 2021. At their current rate of decline they are expected to become extinct between the years 2026-2037, most likely by 2032. 

There is hope, however, in reducing these deadly mosquito populations by utilizing a safe and naturally occurring bacteria, Wolbachia, that is already present in the environment to limit mosquito reproduction. Time is of the utmost essence to help save birds like the beautiful ʻākohekohe from extinction. For more info visit:

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