Crested Honeycreeper

Description and biology

The crested honeycreeper, called the ’akohekohe in Hawaiian, is a small songbird. An adult of the species has an average length of 7 inches (18 centimeters). Its black plumage (covering of feathers) is speckled with gray and orange.

It has orange bars on its wings and an orange band on the back of its neck. The bird’s bill is straight and pointed, and it has a grayish–white tuft on its forehead.

The crested honeycreeper feeds on nectar from the ohia (lehua) tree (tree in the myrtle family with bright red flowers and hard wood). It also feeds on nectar from a number of other flowering plants. In addition, the bird eats insects and fruits.

Biologists (people who study living organisms) know little about the crested honeycreeper’s reproductive habits. They believe the bird begins to build a nest in February or March. A female crested honeycreeper will generally lay two to four eggs shortly afterward, but it is not known how long it takes them to hatch.

Habitat and current distribution

The crested honeycreeper inhabits rain forests on the eastern side of the island of Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. It is most often found at elevations of 4,000 to 7,000 feet (1,220 to 2,135 meters). Biologists estimate the bird’s total population to be 3,800.

History and conservation measures

The crested honeycreeper was once common on the Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Maui. It has been extinct on Molokai since 1907. On Maui, it is confined to a narrow area of upland rain forest.

The crested honeycreepers’ population declined because humans brought into the birds’ habitat plants and animals that were not native to the area, completely changing the environment.

These non–native or alien plants outgrew and took over the plants on which the bird normally fed. Also, introduced animals such as pigs, goats, and deer grazed on the bird’s food sources, further limiting what it had to eat.

Perhaps most damaging to the bird were diseases carried by introduced animals or insects. Many crested honeycreepers fell victim to the diseases known as avian malaria and bird pox that are transmitted by a particular type of mosquito.

The bird has also suffered because large areas of its forest habitat have been cleared to create farms and other human settlements.

Current conservation efforts to stop the decline of the crested honeycreeper include the control of introduced animals and plants. This is of particular importance in such protected areas as the Hanawi Natural Area Reserve, the Haleakala National Park, and the Waikamoi Preserve.