Hemignathus munroi

Eric Vanderwerf
  • 1160

A member of the Hawaiian honeycreeper family (Drepanididae) that has evolved to fill the niche occupied by woodpeckers in many other parts of the world. Endangered and found only on the island of Hawaii.

A bright yellow bird with black lores that is immediately recognized by its sharply curving upper mandible. In appearance, very similar to the Nukupu'u (H. lucidus) which is not known to have occurred on the island of Hawaii. In behavior, creeps along trunks and branches searching for grubs and various arthropods within the bark. Song is a loud, rapid-fire warble.

Distribution and Population Trends
Described by early naturalists as common to abundant throughout its range from 1887 to 1902, but clearing of lower elevation forests during the 1900s split the population into four subunits in remnant native forest above 1500 meters. Only one of these four subpopulations survives in significant numbers, with the other three subpopulations reduced to an estimated 44 birds, 20 birds, and 3 birds respectively. Due to variability in singing and detection rates it has been difficult to accurately estimate population sizes, but it is certain that there have been real declines and withdrawal from previously occupied ranges.

This species has never been intensively studied and little information has been published but clearly dependent on forests with koa (Acacia koa) and ohi'a-lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) trees. Forages by creeping along tree trunks and branches probing, poking, and tearing at bark with its highly specialized bill. Forages mainly on the koa tree, selecting lichen-covered and dead branches to search for arthropods. The few data suggest that this species breeds throughout the year, building their nests in terminal leafy branches of ohi'a-lehua trees.

The main factors limiting population size include mosquito-borne diseases and loss or fragmentation of habitat including through logging of koa trees. It is likely that predation by feral cats and rats, and depletion of their food supply by introduced predatory and parasitic insects are additional factors.

Federally listed as Endangered in 1967. Current U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plans call for additional surveys, investigating how populations are limited, preserving and restoring habitat, and developing a public relations campaign. Populations occur within the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. This species has survived mostly in state forest preserves including the Kau Forest Reserve where intensive efforts are underway to acquire, restore, and manage critical habitats and to remove feral ungulates. Efforts to secure eggs from wild populations to rear in captivity have begun. More urgent action may be needed to safeguard this species including aggressive reforestation of degraded sites that could support Akiapola'au.

What Can You Do?

The Endangered Species Act has helped protect the Akiapola'au and made it possible to learn critical information about its biology. Audubon continues to work to ensure that this vital legislation is being used to protect our publicly-owned wildlife resources. Check out  http://policy.audubon.org/  to learn of the latest news about the Endangered Species Act and how you can help. To learn more about other species protected under this legislation, visit: http://endangered.fws.gov/

U.S. National Wildlife Refuges provide essential habitat for Akiapolaau and a great number of other species throughout the U.S. and its territories. Unfortunately, the refuge system is often under-funded during the U.S. government's budgeting process.  To support U.S. National Wildlife Refuges, consider purchasing a duck stamp which helps to fund wetland habitats in refuges: http://www.fws.gov/duckstamps/

Support efforts to control feral animals and invasive plants and insects throughout the Hawaiian Islands. For more information visit: http://www.hear.org/

Support efforts to protect native forest habitat on Hawaii by state and federal agencies and conservation organizations.

Join Hawaii Audubon Society. A chapter of National Audubon, the Hawaii Audubon Society works to protect and educate people about Hawaii's birds. For more information visithttp://www.audubon.org/chapters/hawaii-audubon-society

The recovery of the native Hawaiian species of endangered birds is a joint project of Zoological Society of San Diego, The Peregrine Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey, Hawaii's Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate, Kai Malino Ranch, Kealia Ranch, and McCandless Land and Cattle Company. This private/public partnership is dedicated to the restoration of threatened Hawaiian species. To learn more about The Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation program, visit http://www.sandiegozoo.org/conservation/fieldproject_hawaiian_birds.html

BirdLife International. 2000. Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge, UK.

BirdLife International (2006) Species factsheet: Hemignathus munroi, Akiapola'au http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=8912&m=0

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1992. Birds in Jeopardy. Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Pratt, H. D. et. al. 1987. A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton UP, Princeton, New Jersey.

Pratt, T. K. et. al. 2001. Akiapola'au (Hemignathus munroi), Nukupu'u (Hemignathus lucidus). In The Birds of North America, No. 600 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologist's Union, Washington, D.C.