The Hawaiian O'o Bird

The Kauai O’o is a member of the extinct genus Moho within the extinct family Mohodae from the islands of Hawaii. The bird was endemic to the island of Kauai and was common in the subtropical forests of the island until the early twentieth century, when its decline began.

Its song was last heard in 1987 and it is most likely now extinct. The possible causes of its extinction include the introduction of the Polynesian rat, domestic pig and mosquitoes carrying avian disease as well as habitat destruction and the plucking of it’s beautiful yellow feathers that were used for plumes in royalty robes, capes and helmets in pre-European Hawaii.

This bird was among the smallest of the Hawaiian honeyeaters, if not the smallest species, at just over 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) in length. The only known O’o to have eyes with yellow irises, it was very vocal, making hollow, haunting, flute-like calls. Both males and females were known to sing.

The bird was a cavity nester in the thickly forested canyons of Kauai. Many of its relatives have also become extinct and little is known about these extinct birds. Higher elevation forests lack tree cavities, so few, if any, nests could be made and it is thought that these extinct birds may have sought refuge from mosquitos by traveling to higher elevation. In the 1970’s the only known footage of the bird was filmed by John L. Sincock on Super 8 film and several song records were recorded as well.

The final blow was two hurricanes coming within ten years of each other. They destroyed many of the old trees with cavities and prohibited tree growth when the second one arrived, causing the species to disappear. The bird was last sighted in 1985 and the last sound recording was made in 1987 by David Boynton.

It is however still believed by some that the species may survive undetected, as the species had already been proclaimed extinct twice: once in the 1940s (later rediscovered in 1950) and again from late 1950s to the early 1970s, being rediscovered by S.R. Sabo. However, it has a loud and distinctive call, and intensive surveys have failed to find any since 1987.

Watch this beautiful clip from the Discovery Channel documenting the mating call of the Kauai O’o Bird: