Nā Manu Nahele
The Native Forest Birds
Kaua'i 'amakihi on lobeliad © Jim Denny
The protection of the remaining native birds in Hawaiʻi needs to be the highest bird conservation priority.
Hawai‘i is a unique archipelago, with an incredible geology, culture, and biodiversity. It is internationally renowned for its explosive radiations across many groups of species, including the Hawaiian honeycreepers.
Over 115 species of endemic birds existed in Hawai‘i before humans arrived, including whole groups that are no longer present such as the moa-nalo, flightless rails, and stilt-owls. Since human colonization, 71 bird species have become extinct, 48 prior to the arrival of Europeans and 23 since Captain James Cook’s arrival in 1778.
Historically, more than 50 different honeycreepers lived in Hawaiʻi, filling forests from the sea to the mountains with their songs. Today, only 17 species remain -- with many of them close to extinction. Twelve species are federally endangered or threatened, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 19 as vulnerable or worse.
“Before we were working on recovery, but now we need to prevent extinction.”
Lisa 'Cali' Crampton
Kauaʻi Forest Bird Recovery Project
Most remaining Hawaiian bird species are declining due to a combination of habitat loss, predation by non-native predators, and habitat degradation due to introduced ungulates, exotic, invasive plants, and introduced diseases, and particularly introduced insects such as mosquitoes. The remaining songbird species are mostly restricted to high-elevation native forests where these threats are reduced.
One overarching threat poses the greatest risk of extinction to these native Hawaiian birds: introduced diseases, specifically, avian malaria and pox, to which susceptible species have little resistance. The cooler conditions in high-elevation native forests have previously limited mosquito abundance and disease transmission.
However, increasing temperatures are allowing mosquitoes and avian diseases to invade these habitats, and will cause multiple, additional extinctions of these irreplaceable forest bird species. The protection of the remaining native birds in Hawaiʻi, including the honeycreepers, the most diverse group of birds in the world, needs to be the highest bird conservation priority in the United States.