Hawai‘i is home to some of the most extraordinary birds on the planet. Crimson-colored native honeycreepers with long, curved beaks designed to sip nectar from blossoms are among the delicate beauties that flit from tree to tree in native Hawaiian forests.
The Islands were once filled with the trills and peeps of endemic forest birds but are becoming increasingly silent due to various factors, including habitat loss and climate change. Despite their plight, the charming and peaceful sounds of Hawai‘i’s fine-feathered creatures can still be enjoyed by serious birders in some of the more remote regions of the Islands, particularly on Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island.
The following are a few of the most visible Hawaiian forest birds that, with enough dedication and a good pair of binoculars, you could be lucky enough to see.
One of the most distinct aspects of this honeycreeper is its long, curved beak. Similar in color to the ‘apapane, this scarlet honeycreeper also has black wings and a tail. The bird mostly feeds on nectar from the blossoms of the ‘öhi‘a tree and is an important pollinator, like the ‘apapane. Their feathers were prized by ali‘i and used to make cloaks and helmets. Natives would use sticky substances from trees to capture the birds, from which they’d pluck a few of their feathers and then set them free. These birds are extremely susceptible to mosquito malaria and their population is rapidly declining on Kaua‘i.
This curious little bird will probably seek you out first. The soft grey and brown flycatcher has a long tail that sticks up as it flits from branch to branch, often following hikers in the forest. ‘Elepaio forage for invertebrates in leaf detritus or among the limbs of ‘öhi‘a. These birds were once abundant at lower elevations and are still relatively prevalent within intact native forests. Hawaiians thought of them as an ‘aumakua (guiding spirit) for canoe makers. If the birds were heavily invested in a koa tree, natives knew not to use it to craft a canoe, as it was likely filled with insects. The bird’s voice ranges from sounding like a dog’s chew toy to a “raspy chatter,” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
This small olive green honeycreeper eats a varied diet of insects, nectar and fruit. What sets this bird apart is its longer, downward sloping, pointy black bill. Its song is described by the IUCN as “a vigorous trill with short introductory notes, sometimes on level pitch, sometimes descending.” It also has a “sharp chirp” and a “buzzing mewing note.”
These are some of the more prevalent native birds you’ll find in places such as Köke‘e State Park and Volcano. Their crimson feathers with black detail on their wings and tails are easy to spot. You’ll most likely see them moving among ‘öhi‘a trees, sipping nectar from the lehua blossoms, which are almost identical in color. Occasionally these birds eat insects as well. You’ll probably hear them before you see them. They make some of the most varied noises of the native birds, which include trills, whistles, clicks and squeaks. Formerly found everywhere on the Islands, they are now concentrated higher elevation rainforests.
Top photo of ‘I‘iwi by vagabond54, I‘iwi by Thomas Chlebecek,
‘Elepaio by rlsmithtx, ‘Amakihi by Dai Mar Tamarack, ‘Apapane by Evan Austen