This is the final post in my series about the native forest birds of Kaua’i, Hawai’i. Previous entries introduced the ‘Akikiki, ‘Akeke’e, Kaua’i ‘Elepaio, ‘Anianiau, Kaua’i ‘Amakihi, ‘Apapane, ‘I’iwi, and Puaiohi.
Nine native forest birds on Kaua’i are extinct or likely so. Four of these species are known only from subfossils (remains that aren’t quite old enough to be fossils); it’s not clear whether they went extinct before or after Polynesians first arrived in Hawai’i. The other five, described below, disappeared in the twentieth century, and four of them have been lost in my own lifetime.
Kaua’i ‘Akialoa (Akialoa stejnegeri): Rare even when it was discovered by Europeans in the late 1700s, this yellow-green honeycreeper had a thin, downcurved beak almost as long as its body. It was last seen in 1965, two years before it was listed as an endangered species.
Kaua’i ‘O’o or ‘O’o’a’a (Moho braccatus): This beautiful, black, yellow-legged honeyeater was last detected in the late eighties. Like several other of the birds listed in this post, Hurricane Iniki in 1991 may have been the killing blow that wiped out a population already devasted by mosquito-borned diseases, hunting, competition with introduced birds, and habitat loss.
Kama’o or Large Kaua’i Thrush (Myadestes myadestinus): The Puaiohi’s larger and more common cousin also disappeared around the time of Hurricane Iniki. Only a century before, it was the most common bird on the island.
‘O’u (Psittirostra psittacea): Not formally listed as extinct, but again no confirmed sightings in more than 20 years. This bird—confusingly not related to the ‘O’o—was found on most of the windward Hawaiian islands. It was green with a yellow head (in males) and a thick, hooked beak like a parrot’s.
Nukupu’u (Hemignathus lucidus): This spectacular yellow honeycreeper with a thin, downcurved beak a little shorter than that of the ‘Akialoa persisted on Kaua’i and Maui until the late nineties, although later sightings may have been misidentified ‘Amakihi.
Generally, a species is declared extinct when it hasn’t been detected for 50 years or more, and there have been a few false alarms in which Hawaiian bird species were provisionally declared extinct and then rediscovered. So perhaps there’s hope that a few individuals are out there, beyond the next ridge or up the next inaccesible sidestream. But even if there are, will that be enough? Or will inbreeding gradually weaken the gene pool, or climate change bring disease-bearing mosquitoes to these last outposts, or the next big hurricane simply blow them away?