This is the first post in a series introducing the native forest birds of Kaua’i. It’s not meant to be a birding guide or anything, just my observations and some fun facts about the avifauna I get to hang out with.
The ‘Akikiki, or Kaua’i Creeper (Oreomystis bairdi) is one of three Kaua’i forest birds on the U. S.’s endangered species list. It’s a small, chubby, grey honeycreeper with a pale belly, thin beak, and short tail. As its English name suggests, it forages by creeping along tree branches, prying up the bark and poking its beak into holes for insects. Mated pairs seem to be joined at the hip, often foraging in pairs, the two birds each chirping softly to each other as they carefully pick over every last inch of a tree trunk. It’s a delight to watch them, as they move slowly from tree to tree rather than zooming off into the forest, so they can be followed for hours. They also, like many of Hawai’i native birds, have little fear of humans, and can be approached closely.
‘Akikiki make a variety of call notes, depending on who they’re talking to: their most distinctive call is upslurred and happy-sounding, like a squeal of delight, but they will often imitate and respond to the ‘Anianiau’s double-note call. They readily associate with other bird species when foraging, too. (Last week I followed a solitary second-year female who joined up with an ‘Amakihi and a family of ‘Anianiau. She clearly changed her call as soon as she heard the ‘Anianiau’s.) Their song is a slow trill, but we’ve never heard it this season, for reasons we don’t understand (as breeding is still obviously going on).
Their nests, which seem to be constructed only by females (while the male follows her closely!), are small, mossy cups, usually high up in old, gnarly ohias. The chicks are hilarious. They have a pale eye-ring (which disappears as they mature); combined with their rotund silhouette, they remind me of pandas (and indeed, their conservation outlook might be comparable).
‘Akikiki are among the hardest of Kaua’i’s native birds to see, because their range appears to be contracting away from the most tourist-accessible parts of the rainforest. If you’re a visiting birder with aspirations to spot it, your best bet is the Alakai Swamp Trail in Koke’e State Park, but it’s a long shot.