- Federally Listed as Endangered
- State Listed as Endangered
- State Recognized as Endemic
- NatureServe Heritage Rank G2—Imperiled
- IUCN Red List Ranking—Critically Endangered
- Revised Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Forest Birds—USFWS 2006
The ‘akeke‘e, or Kaua‘i ‘ākepa, is a small, slightly sexually dichromatic (meaning there is a difference in coloration between female and male), insectivorous Hawaiian honeycreeper (Family: Fringillidae) endemic to Kaua‘i. Adult males and females are greenish above and yellow below with a yellow crown and a black mask; females are slightly duller than males. Unlike the similar Kaua‘i amakihi (Hemignathus kauaiensis), the ‘akeke‘e’s bill has the shape of a cone. Although not visible in the field, the lower mandible of the ‘akeke‘e is slightly bent to one side which results in the mandible tips being offset; a characteristic shared with the ‘ākepa (L. coccineus). The ‘akeke‘e uses its bill to prey open ‘ōhi‘a (Metrosideros polymorpha) leaves and flower buds in search of arthropods, primarily spiders, psyllids, and caterpillars. The species is an ‘ōhi‘a specialist and rarely even perches on other trees or shrubs. Its methodical probing of leaf buds is distinctive and can be used to identify the species. ‘Akeke‘e are most often observed in pairs or family groups. Fewer than 20 ‘akeke‘e nests have been found and the species’ breeding biology is virtually unknown. In a sample of eight nests, all were located in the small terminal branches of ‘ōhi‘a. At one nest, the male and female both participated in nest construction, but in the sample of eight nests, only females were observed building. In three nests that have been directly accessed during incubation, two had clutch sizes of two eggs, and the third nest contained three eggs. In another study, five nests were observed to fledge two chicks, and the sixth fledged one chick. Two nests did not fledge, one due to hatching failure and the other due to poor attendance by the female. Immediately post-hatch, only females fed nestlings, but thereafter both parents fed chicks. It is not clear whether this species renests or double broods.
Found in native forests of the Alaka‘i swamp, upper Waimea, and Kōke‘e regions mostly above 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) elevation, but are becoming less common in the latter. Although historically widespread, ‘akeke‘e apparently did not occur at lower elevations.
Occurs above 600 meters (1,950 feet), although populations are densest above 1,100 meters (3,600 feet), in lowland mesic and wet forests dominated by ‘ōhi‘a, koa (Acacia koa), ‘ōlapa (Cheirodendron trigynum), and lapalapa (C. platyphyllum). Most of the current range occurs in Kōke‘e State Park and the Alaka‘i Wilderness Preserve. Occupancy is positively correlated with canopy height and maximum ‘ōhi‘a diameter at breast height.
Habitat degradation. The spread of non-native plants and degradation by ungulates may reduce habitat suitability. The correlation of occupancy with large tree metrics suggest that damage done by two hurricanes may also limit distribution and abundance.
- Disease. ‘Akeke’e may be highly susceptible to mosquito-borne avian malaria. Only one of 20 ‘akeke’e caught since 1994 has tested positive for malarial anitibodies; since malaria seems to be established on the Alakai’ Plateau, the most likely explanation for this result is high mortality after infection with malaria. Disease and habitat degradation are the most probable causes of population declines in this species in the last decade.
- Competition. Non-native insects, especially yellow-jackets (Vespula pensylvanica) and ants (Linepithema humile), may compete with or prey on the native arthropods on which ‘akeke’e feed. The role of non-native insects in native Hawaiian forests is unclear.
- Predation. Although predation on adults or their nests has not been documented, rats (Rattus spp.), cats (Felis silvestris), Hawaiian short-eared owls (Asio flammeus sandwichensis), and barn owls (Tyto alba) occur throughout the forests of Kaua’i and may prey on young and adults.
- Small population dynamics. The observed hatching failures may indicate genetic issues associated with small population sizes.
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For more information and references visit the State Wildlife Action Plan factsheets. DOFAWʻs species pages and State Wildlife Action Plan fact sheets are provided for general information and are not meant to be a citable, original source of data. If you are a student, researcher, or writer looking for a citable source, please explore the references below or find other original data sources, rather than citing these webpages. The references below were provided by the authors of the State Wildlife Action Plan fact sheets at the time of drafting:
- Atkinson, CT, RB Utzurrum, DA LaPointe, RJ Camp, LH Crampton, JT Foster, and TW Giambelluca. 2014. Changing Climate and the Altitudinal Range of Avian Malaria in the Hawaiian Islands – an Ongoing Conservation Crisis on the Island of Kaua‘i. Global Change Biology 20, 2426–2436, doi: 10.1111/gcb.12535.
- Behnke, L. 2014. Habitat use and conservation implications for Akikiki (Oreomystsis bairdi) and Akekee (Loxops caeruleirostris), two endangered Hawaiian honeycreepers. M.S. Thesis. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO.
- Foster JT, Tweed EJ, Camp RJ, Woodworth BL, Adler CD, Telfer T. 2004. Long-term population changes of native and introduced birds in the Alaka‘i swamp, Kaua‘i. Conservation Biology 18:716-725.
- Hammond, RL, Crampton, LH, and Foster, JT. 2015. Breeding biology of two endangered forest birds on the island of Kaua’i. Condor 117: 31-40.
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015. Version 2014.3. Available at: www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed May 2015).
- Lepson JK, Pratt HD. 1997. ‘Akeke‘e (Loxops caeruleirostris). In The Birds of North America, No. 295 (Poole A, Gill F, editors.). Philadelphia, (PA): The Academy of Natural Sciences; and Washington DC: The American Ornithologists’ Union.
- Scott JM, Mountainspring S, Ramsey FL, Kepler CB. 1986. Forest bird communities of the Hawaiian islands: their dynamics, ecology and conservation. Lawrence, (KS): Cooper Ornithological Society.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2006. Revised Recovery plan for Hawaiian forest birds. Portland, (OR): U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.