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A photo of a Iiwi (Drepanis coccinea)
Iiwi

Iiwi

Drepanis coccinea

The ʻIʻiwi, or scarlet honeycreeper, is a vibrant avian species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Its striking scarlet plumage, offset by jet-black wings and tail, makes it a visual emblem of Hawaii's native birdlife. The ʻIʻiwi's long, decurved bill, a distinctive salmon hue, is a specialized tool evolved to sip nectar from the islands' unique flowers.

Identification Tips

Adult ʻIʻiwi are predominantly scarlet with contrasting black wings and tail. Their curved bill is an unmistakable feature, aiding in identification. Juveniles display golden feathers with spots and possess ivory bills, which historically led to misidentification as a separate species. As they mature, their plumage transitions to the adult's scarlet coloration.

Habitat

The ʻIʻiwi thrives in mesic to wet forests at higher elevations, where it is most abundant. These birds are adapted to a life amidst the canopy, where they can access the nectar of native flora.

Distribution

The ʻIʻiwi is primarily found on the islands of Hawaiʻi and Maui, with the largest populations residing in East Maui and the windward slopes of Hawaiʻi Island. Kauaʻi hosts less than 1% of the population, and sightings on Molokaʻi and Oʻahu have become rare since the 1990s. The species is no longer present on Lānaʻi.

Behaviour

These birds exhibit altitudinal migration, following the blooming of flowers up the mountainsides throughout the year. Some individuals on Hawaiʻi Island may even undertake daily foraging trips from lower elevations to feed on nectar.

Song & Calls

The ʻIʻiwi's song is a curious symphony of whistles, reminiscent of balls dropping into water, the rubbing of balloons, and the creak of a rusty hinge—a unique acoustic signature in the Hawaiian forests.

Breeding

Breeding season spans from January to June, peaking as the ʻōhiʻa trees flourish. Females lay two to three bluish eggs in nests woven from tree fibers, petals, and down. Chicks, initially yellowish-green with brownish-orange markings, fledge in about 24 days and soon don the adult's scarlet coat.

Similar Species

The ʻIʻiwi's unique coloration and bill shape make it quite distinct, reducing confusion with other species.

Diet and Feeding

The ʻIʻiwi's diet consists primarily of nectar, especially from the flowers of Hawaiian lobelioids and ʻōhiʻa lehua trees. They also consume small arthropods, supplementing their nectar intake.

Conservation status

The ʻIʻiwi is currently classified as Vulnerable. It faces threats from habitat loss, avian diseases like malaria, and the decline of its primary food source, the ʻōhiʻa lehua, due to Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death. Conservation efforts include habitat protection, mosquito control, and the potential for genetic strategies to enhance disease resistance.

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Iiwis on Birda

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