© Jack Jeffrey
At a Glance
Hawaiian honeycreepers are related to finches and entirely restricted to the Hawaiian Islands. At least 59 species originally occurred, but, with human settlement, first by Polynesians and later by Europeans, came multiple introductions of exotic species that have caused the extinction of most honeycreeper species. Only 17 types remain today.
Range: Perhaps as little as 14 square miles mostly within the the Alaka`i Wilderness Preserve in northwestern Kaua`i.
Habitat Type: Mesic to wet montane forest.
Primary Diet: Insects, insect larvae, and other arthropods taken from bark, crevices, dead wood, and epiphytes by gleaning, probing, and rarely by excavation.
Estimated Population: Approximately 1,300 individuals.
States with Current Habitat
The `Akikiki is a small honeycreeper endemic to the island of Kaua`i in the Hawaiian Islands where it is vulnerable to a wide range of threats. Like many birds that have evolved on isolated oceanic islands in the absence of mammalian predators, honeycreepers, including the `Akikiki, are highly vulnerable to rats and cats that prey on adults, chicks, and eggs. Exotic herbivores such as pigs, cattle, sheep, and goats degrade their natural habitat, and exotic plants out compete native plants resulting in additional habitat degradation and the loss of food plants and insects with which they co-evolved. In 1826, mosquitoes were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, and multiple introductions of exotic bird species brought two serious avian diseases, avian pox virus and avian malaria, to which the `Akikiki and other Hawaiian honeycreepers have no natural resistance.
Threats related to Global Warming
Avian malaria is a serious threat to the `Akikiki, and global warming could exacerbate that threat by eliminating nearly all areas where malaria transmission is currently temperature limited. Where mean ambient temperatures are between 55-63°F, malaria transmission is constrained, and below 55°F the malaria parasite will not develop in birds. All forested areas on Kaua`i are warm enough for some level of malaria transmission. However, an increase in temperature of slightly less than 4°F, which is predicted by some models, would raise the 63°F theshold by nearly 1000 feet, resulting in an 85% decrease in the area where transmission is currently limited.
Long-term solutions to limiting the spread of malaria on Kaua`i and other Hawaiian Islands include reducing global temperature rise and controlling malaria-spreading mosquitoes. However, since both of these are long-term solutions and the `Akikiki is at risk of extinction now, aggressive efforts are needed to reduce habitat degradation that can provide breeding opportunities for mosquitoes. Feral pigs create wallows and eat holes in tree fern trunks where water can collect and mosquitoes can breed. Fencing large blocks of montane forest habitat and removing feral pigs and other ungulates is an effective method of maintaining the integrity and quality of Hawai`i's native forests and reducing the prevalence of malaria.
American Bird Conservancy and Hawaiian bird expert, Dr. Eric VanderWerf, petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the `Akikiki under the Endangered Species Act. In response, the Service has proposed listing the species along with `Akeke`e, another imperiled honeycreeper endemic to Kaua`i facing similar threats. Listing the `Akikiki would provide federal protection of the species and its habitat, and provide funding support for recovery actions such as habitat restoration and protection.