One of the most special things about Hawaii is the genuine love and appreciation for the ‘Āina. Respecting the land or ‘Āina is ingrained in Hawaiian culture and strongly taught to all who are blessed to call Hawaii home.
Hawaii is home to some of the most beautiful and most endangered bird species in the world. As our brand was inspired by Hawaii’s natural beauty and the now extinct ʻōʻō bird, it’s equally important to bring awareness to the remaining native bird species of Hawaii. Currently, 33 of Hawaii’s remaining 44 endemic birds are listed under the Endangered Species Act; 11 of those have not been seen for decades and are likely extinct.
O’o Hawaii believes in and supports the work of the Keahou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island of Hawaii, which is part of the Hawaii Forest Institute. For every online sale, O’o Hawaii donates $1.00 to this wonderful organization. Our hope is to see these beautiful endemic birds, which help to make Hawaii so special, perpetuate unlike the haunting story of the ʻōʻō bird.
Below are a few of the living endemic birds of Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii. Each with their own beautiful, song like bird call, we encourage you to explore the sources listed at the end of this blog where you can listen to each bird’s magical voice.
The most abundant species of Hawaiian honeycreeper that is known for its wide-ranging flights in search of localized blooms of endemic ō‘hi‘a flowers, its primary food source. Abundant in higher elevation forests on the Big Island including along Crater Rim Drive and the Mauna Loa strip road, especially where ō‘hi‘a flowers are in bloom. The ‘Apapane has an incredibly diverse array of songs and calls that vary between and even within islands. Their bright crimson plumage, black wings and tail, prominent white undertail-coverts and abdomen, and long, decurved bill are characteristic.
The ‘I‘iwi is one of the most spectacular of extant Hawaiian birds, with vermilion plumage, black wings and tail, and a long, decurved bill. In pre-European Hawaii, beautiful feather capes, sometimes containing hundreds of thousands of ‘I‘iwi feathers, were a symbol of power and prestige among native Hawaiians. ‘I‘iwi and ‘Apapane are well known for their long flights over the forests in search of flowers of the endemic ō‘hi‘a tree, their primary food source. Typically found only in high-elevation forests of the park above 4,500 feet where mosquitos that transmit avian malaria and avian pox are less common.
One of the most common native forest birds, which in recent years has sometimes been found at elevations below 3,500 feet where mosquitos and avian disease transmission are more prevalent. Hawaii ‘Amakihi are nonmigratory and omnivorous, feeding mainly on insects and small arthropods and some nectar.
‘Elepaio are active, agile, and versatile flycatchers that occur in high-elevation forests of the park where they glean insects from vegetation in the understory and throughout the forest canopy, and catch insects on the wing. ‘Elepaio were considered ‘aumakua (“guiding spirit”) of Hawaiian canoe makers. If an ‘Elepaio pecked at a koa tree that had been cut down for canoe-making, it was regarded as unseaworthy and not used.
Endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper found in high-elevation forests of the Kahuku unit of the park above the distribution of disease-transmitting mosquitos. Known as the Hawaiian honeycreeper with the “Swiss Army knife beak”, the tree-dwelling ‘Akiapōlā‘au moves along branches and twigs, pausing inquisitively to tap or probe the bark and epiphytes with its unique bill. Once it detects a hiding caterpiller or spider, the bird excavates the substrate and extracts the prey with its hooked beak.
Endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper found in high-elevation forests of the Kahuku unit of the park. They use their odd-shaped bills to pry open endemic ō‘hi‘a buds, small seed pods, and galls in search of insects and spiders.
Nēnē (Hawaiian Goose)
The State Bird of Hawaii and most prolific in the Wai’anae Mountains. The only surviving endemic goose species of six described from the Hawaiian Islands. In subfamily Anserinae, tribe Anserini with other true geese. Using genetic information, scientists theorize that nēnē and the Canada goose diverged from a common North American ancestor less than three million years ago. Reintroduced populations occur on the islands of Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, Molokai, and most recently on Oahu. Found in variety of habitats including sparsely vegetated, high-elevation lava flows; volcanic deserts; native alpine grasslands and shrublands; open native and non-native alpine shrubland/woodland interfaces, and non-native grasslands (e.g., pastures, rural areas). Some nēnē are also found on golf courses.
The Oahu ‘amakihi is a small, generalist Hawaiian honeycreeper endemic to the island of Oahu. Until 1995, the Oahu ‘amakihi, and the Hawaii and Kauai amakihi were considered a single species: the common ‘amakihi. Plumage of all species is similar; males are yellow-green to olive with black lores. Females are similar, but duller. All have decurved bills. The plumage of some male Oahu amakihi is variable in having yellow above eyes and more yellow breasts, and compared to the other species, female Oahu ‘amakihi have two dull wing bars. The Oahu ‘amakihi is brighter and smaller than the Kauai ‘amakihi. Oahu ‘amakihi are generalized foragers that take arthropods from a variety of trees and substrates. Oahu ‘amakihi occur in a variety of habitats from very wet forests in the Ko‘olau Mountains to dry forests in the Wai‘anae Mountains. They are more common in sheltered forests in valleys at middle elevations. Unlike, other Hawaiian passerines, the range of the Oahu ‘amakihi extends to low-elevation forest dominated by non-native plant species. Among introduced forests, ‘amakihi are most abundant in areas dominated by guava or kukui.
The Palila are now restricted to a small area of māmane forest high on the southwestern slope of Mauna Kea; their former forest habitat was converted to pasture or overgrazed by sheep. Palila and the māmane tree are two of Hawaii’s many species found nowhere else. The tree is essential to the bird: The Palila’s hooked bill is just right for opening the tough, fibrous seedpods of māmane, the bird’s primary food. This bird’s survival and reproductive success depend on the reproductive success of the tree. In drought years when the māmane seed crop is low, most Palila do not attempt to breed.
Research and images gathered about Hawaii’s endemic birds came from the sources below. For more information on Hawaii’s endemic and endangered birds, please visit these sites: