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Jewels of the Forest: Kaua’i’s Endangered Honeycreepers

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Millions of years ago, finches were likely blown off-course by storm winds, and found themselves in the safe haven of the predator-free Hawaiian Islands. Over time, these birds diversified and thrived, a process known as adaptive radiation; some drank nectar or sap, others found grubs or insects, some flourished on fruit or seeds.

Similar to the famed Galapagos Islands, the Hawaiian Islands are an ecological hotspot that once supported more than 50 species now known as honeycreepers.

adaptive radiation
This CGEEmultimedia video, featuring ecologist Dr. Lisa “Cali” Crampton and photographer Jim Denny, shares the honeycreepers’ story. From the Kaua’i Forest Bird Recovery Project (KFBRP):

“At one point, 16 forest bird species occurred on Kaua’i. Now, due to various factors, only eight forest bird species remain, six of which (marked with *) live only on Kaua’i: ‘Akeke’e*, ‘Akikiki*, ‘Anianiau*, ‘Apapane, ‘I’iwi, Kaua’i ‘Amakihi*, Kaua’i ‘Elepaio*, and Puaihoi*.

“These priceless gems in flight can be found in the mountain rainforests, and most can be found along the trails of Koke’e by very sharp-eyed observers (see our Birding Map).”

Introduced to the islands by humans, mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases are the cause of the species’ quick decline. Collaborating with the State of Hawai’i Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and the Pacific Studies Cooperative Unit of the University of Hawai’i, KFBRP’s conservation efforts are dedicated to reversing that downturn.

honeycreeper species - anianiau
Learn more at

Related reading at Smithsonian Magazine in 2011: The Hawaiian Honeycreeper Family Tree and Why Evolution Goes Wild On Islands: The Science Of Adaptive Radiation from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Watch this next: Birdsong, an animation about Hawaii’s Kaua’i ‘ō’ō.

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