Editor’s note: I updated this story on Sept. 26 to include a statement from Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project Coordinator Dr. Hanna Mounce.
Though they once nested throughout Hawaii’s high mountain forests, the ‘i‘iwi–also known as the scarlet honeycreeper–is today pretty much only found in a narrow band of East Maui forests and the Big Island’s windward slopes. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the “birds are virtually gone from the islands of Lanai, Oahu, Molokai and west Maui, while the population on Kauai is in steep decline.”
According to the USFWS, “Avian malaria, carried by invasive mosquitos, is the primary driver in the decline in of the ‘i‘iwi population.” But the agency is taking a step that will hopefully help the birds. On Sept. 20, the USFWS will officially list the ‘i‘iwi as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act.
Here’s Mary Abrams, a project leader at the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, in a Sept. 18 USFWS news release:
In recent years, the ‘i‘iwi population has been in sharp decline, due to threats from habitat loss, invasive species and avian diseases, particularly avian malaria. These threats have affected all forest birds, not just the ‘i‘iwi. Conservation that benefits the ‘i‘iwi will undoubtedly benefit other Hawaiian forest birds.
‘I‘iwi have virtually disappeared from any habitat where mosquitoes are found. This has caused their range to shrink dramatically–they are almost entirely limited to higher elevation ‘ōhi‘a forests for their habitat, dietary, and nesting needs.
Working with the state, our conservation partners and the public will be crucial as we work to recover the ‘i‘iwi. The Service is committed to building on our record of collaborative conservation to protect Hawaii’s native species.
Dr. Hanna L. Mounce, the coordinator at the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, was cautiously optimistic at the news.
“This is a good step but not a victory,” she emailed me on Sept. 25. “There is a long way to go to making sure we don’t lose ‘i‘iwi. Any attention that we can draw to the extinction crisis in Hawaii will help all of our native species. Extinctions are still happening today. The addition of a new species getting listed will not only provide additional protections to that species but also highlight the issues we are facing here in Hawaii. What people often do not realize though is that just because a species is listed, that does not mean that there are any funds allocated to implement a species recovery plan for that species. We need everyone to lobby our local and federal government to allocate the resources to protect our Hawaii species before it is too late.”
For more information on the USFWS’ actions concerning the ‘i‘iwi, go to Fws.gov/
Photo of ‘i‘iwi: USFWS