I’iwi – O’ahu’s Rarest Bird

We chose the scarlet I’iwi (Drepanis Coccinea) to be the symbol of our company, O’ahu Nature Tours, because of its great beauty and uniqueness.  The adult I’iwi is mostly vermillion, with black wings and tail and a long, curved, salmon-colored bill used primarily for drinking nectar.  It is the last surviving species in the Drepanis genus and is the icon for the Hawaiian Honeycreepers.

Over a thousand years ago, before the arrival of people to the Hawaiian Islands, the I’iwi was abundant on O’ahu and probably had a population over 100,000 or more.  Native Hawaii bird-catchers caught I’iwi using nets and sticky sap from a variety of plants.  The bright red feathers were used to make feather capes, cloaks, leis and images of their gods.  After the feathers were plucked many of the birds were eaten.

Rats, mosquitoes and avian malaria were introduced to O’ahu in the early 1800’s and these had devastating effects on the I’iwi.  The rats climbed the trees and ate the I’iwi eggs, and chicks.  Mosquitoes bit chickens and other non-native birds that were hosts for avian malaria and then bit the I’iwi which has no immunity to this introduced disease.

The I’iwi population plummeted and by the 1930’s they were considered extremely rare.  Between 1980-2000 only a few birds existed in some of the remote forests on the Koolau and Waianae volcanoes.  Between 2010-2016, only two birds were observed on O’ahu.  In 2016, the I’iwi was declared a threatened species by the U.S fish and Wildlife Service.  It will most likely become extinct on O’ahu in the next few years.

 

(Pyle, R.L., and P.Pyle. 2017. The Birds of the Hawaiian Islands: Occurrence, History, Distribution, and Status.  B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI, U.S.A. Version 2. 1 January)