Nihoa Finch

Nihoa Finch

webage header of a nihoa finch


  • Common: Nihoa Finch
  • Scientific: Telespiza ultima


Conservation Status

  • Federally Listed as Endangered
  • State Listed as Endangered
  • State Recognized as Endemic
  • NatureServe Heritage Rank G1—Critically Imperiled
  • IUCN Red List Ranking—Critically Endangered
  • Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Passerines Recovery Plan— USFWS 1984

Species Information

The Nihoa finch is an omnivorous, ground-nesting Hawaiian honeycreeper (Family: Fringillidae) endemic to Nihoa Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Nihoa finches have black legs, large feet, and sturdy bills suitable for seed eating, but in all body dimensions they are smaller than their relatives Laysan finches. Males and females have different plumage; males are a brighter yellow over a larger proportion of their head and body than females. Nihoa finches are known to feed on seeds, fruits, leaves, flowers, stems, seedlings, roots, carrion, invertebrates, and eggs. Although their social behavior has not been thoroughly studied, Nihoa finches are thought to be similar to Laysan finches in being non-territorial outside of the breeding season. During breeding season, males defend nest sites in rock crevices, while females construct nests and incubate eggs. Females rely upon males for nourishment during the incubation period.


Restricted to the approximately 63 hectare (156 acre) area of Nihoa Island. An introduced population at Tern Island, French Frigate Shoals, was extinct by the early 1980s.


Resides year-round on the steep-sided, rocky, and shrub-covered island of Nihoa. Finches prefer open but vegetated habitat and forage in all areas of the island. Finches frequently congregate around Nihoa’s five to seven small freshwater seeps, or at ephemeral puddles of fresh water. About 25 species of plants compose Nihoa’s vegetation community; the four most abundant are (in descending order of abundance): the shrub Chenopodium oahuense, the shrub Solanum nelsonii, the shrub Sida fallax, and the bunchgrass Eragrostic variabilis. Finch presence is positively correlated with Sida fallax height and percent cover, and also with mean and maximum Solanum nelsoni height. The entire range of this species occurs in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.


Limiting factors for Nihoa finches are primarily weather (i.e., drought and storms), variations in food supply (typically due to weather), and availability of appropriate nest sites. During population highs, the proclivity of Nihoa finches to break conspecific eggs might increase, but this has not been studied. Additional threats include:

  • Invasive alien plants. Habitat quality could be degraded by weed invasions. While the finches, being omnivorous, would likely integrate some invasive plants into their diet, native plant populations could be adversely affected by competition with invasive alien plants such as Miconia calvescens or Clidemia hirta. To the extent that such alien plants would be lower-quality food resources, the finch population would be affected.
  • Arthropod irruptions. Periodic irruptions of a native grasshopper on Nihoa Island reduce plant cover and degrade habitat.
  • Population size. Small populations are plagued by a variety of potentially irreversible problems that fall into three categories: demographic, stochastic, and genetic; the former are usually most problematic. Demographic factors include skewed sex ratios and stochastic factors include natural disasters. Habitat fragmentation exacerbates demographic and genetic problems.
  • Introduced mammals. The risk of rat introduction via transport (i.e., ships, planes) is of concern as rats are known to have decimated passerine populations in the NWHI in the past as a result of shipwrecks.

Additional Resources 

For more information and references visit the DLNR 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:

  • Morin M., Conant S. 2002. Laysan finch (Telespiza cantans) and Nihoa finch (Telespiza ultima). In The Birds of North America, No. 639 (Poole A, Gill F, editors.). Philadelphia, (PA): The Academy of Natural Sciences; and Washington DC: The American Ornithologists’ Union.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1984. Recovery plan for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands passerines. Portland, (OR): U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 66 pp.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2011. Nihoa Finch (Telespiza ultima) 5-Year Review. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.