Red Birds, Curved Beaks

I’iwi on ohi’a tree (photo by Gregory (Slobirdr) Smith on Flickr)

Today our VENT birding tour has special permission to enter the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on the eastern slope of Mauna Kea where there are more native birds than anywhere else on the islands. We’re going to see a lot of birds and a lot of them are endangered.

The refuge, founded in 1985 to protect Hawaiian rainforest birds and their habitat, is closed to the general public because the ohi’a trees (pictured above) are dying of a fungus that’s spread too easily by humans. Rapid Oh’ia Death kills the trees within a few days or weeks. Hundreds of thousands of trees have died since 2013. This is especially scary because the ohi’a is the most common native tree and so many birds rely on it. Many of them have unusual beaks.

The I’iwi (Drepanis coccinea), at top and below, is nearly the same color as ohi’a flowers. Vermilion red with a decurved bill that’s perfect for probing flowers and sipping nectar, he perches like a songbird or hovers like a hummingbird. He was so common when Polynesians first arrived in Hawai’i that they made his feathers into royal cloaks.

I’iwi feeding on nectar (photo by Robin Agarwal on Flickr)

The ‘apapane (Himatione sanguinea), below, also feeds on ohi’a flowers and is red and black like the i’iwi. However his color is scarlet, his undertail coverts are white, and his dark bill has a gentle curve.

‘Apapane (photo by Bettina Arrigoni on Flickr)

The Hawai’i akepa (Loxops coccineus) is a tiny orange-red bird with brownish primaries. This endangered crossbill feeds on spiders, insects and nectar in the ohi’a forest. Yes, his bill is curved and crossed!

Akepa (photo by Bettina Arrigoni on Flickr)

And finally, the Hawai’i amakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens) is certainly not red but he has a curved beak that’s useful for gleaning, probing, and sipping while he eats spiders, insects, sap, nectar and fruit. He’s a versatile bird whose population is doing quite well with 800,000 to 900,000 on the islands.

Hawaii amakihi (photo by Bettina Arrigoni on Flickr)

What do these birds have in common other than their curved beaks? They are all Hawaiian honeycreepers.

(all photos are Creative Commons licensed. i’iwi at top by Gregory (Slobirdr) Smith on Flickr, i’iwi at yellow flowers by Robin Agarwal on Flickr, ‘apapane, akepa and Hawaiian amakihi by Bettina Arrigoni on Flicker)

Tour Day 6: Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on the island of Hawai’i

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