9 February, 2024
By Alexander Trifunovic
ʻĀkohekohe. Photo by National Park Service.
Hawai’i’s humid, high-elevation rainforests host a diverse assemblage of endemic birds, and the 'Ākohekohe (Palmeria dolei) is one of the most dramatic. Adult 'Ākohekohe are mostly black with white-tipped feathers, a high-contrast orange eye ring and nape, and boast a diagnostic crest of white feathers sprouting from their forehead. With a personality to match their looks, these large, energetic honeycreepers aggressively defend their favorite feeding sites on native ʻōhiʻa trees where they consume nectar from the bright red blossoms. 'Ākohekohe are highly territorial throughout the year, using both vocalizations and aggressive flight chases to maintain their claim on high-quality nectar sites and breeding territories. Vocalizations include a long, rising whistle and a range of shorter whistles and guttural calls. Courtship includes acrobatic flight displays above the canopy, where up to six males hover, glide, and perform large arcs and circular maneuvers. The males will pursue females through the canopy while carrying nesting material, calling, and frantically flicking and fanning their tail feathers. Male 'Ākohekohe like to keep it classy by regurgitating food offerings for the female, and this behavior persists through the breeding season where it possibly strengthens the pair bond. As with many other native birds in Hawai’i, the 'Ākohekohe is critically endangered and is plagued by introduced mosquitoes carrying avian malaria, mammalian predators, and feral pigs. Efforts are underway to implement predator and ungulate exclusion fences and to restore high-elevation, native rainforest. The future of the 'Ākohekohe is uncertain, and continued research and conservation efforts will be needed to give this unique bird and other endangered honeycreepers a chance at recovery.