Will This Rare Hawaiian Forest Bird Go Extinct?

Read wildlife photographer Jim Denny’s story of the declining Hawaiian i`iwi and the lobelia flower that depend upon one another. Then, please join with the National Wildlife Federation and partners in our work to save America’s wildlife species in crisis by urging Congress to support the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

When I first started photographing native forest birds on Kaua`i in the early 1980s the `i`iwi was common. Every year, in late September thru early November, when the colony of Trematolobelia kauaiensis (koli`i) on the Pihea Trail came into bloom, the `i`iwi was there to feed on it.  There were often 3 or 4 birds on each plant vying for the nectar.

All day long it was a frenzy of activity and a cacophony of song. I made it my habit to sit by these plants every fall to enjoy and to photograph this spectacle. In the late 1990s, the number of `i`iwi visiting this koli`i colony began to decline. I would occasionally have to wait for an hour or so for one to appear.

In 2005, the `i`iwi failed to appear at all. In spite of many hours waiting by these flowers, I have not seen the `i`iwi on them in the last 13 years. The `i`iwi is the main pollinator of this lobelia. If nothing is done to stop the spread of avian malaria and pox, I fear that we will not only lose this magnificent endemic honeycreeper, but we may lose the plant as well.

I shifted my efforts deeper into the swamp. Another spot where I was always able to find them was a little upstream from where the Alakai Swamp Trail crosses the Kawaikoi Stream. I would sit on the slope up above and shoot down on them as they fed in the lehua in the top of the canopy. Again, it was a given to find 4 or 5 birds there, but even this place has now grown empty and silent.

Sadly, on Kaua`i, the once plentiful `i`iwi has become a very difficult bird to find.

The `i`iwi is protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, as of September, 2017. 

About the Author

Wildlife Photographer Jim DennyJim Denny grew up amid the bayous and hardwood forests of rural Louisiana, where he learned his love for the outdoors. For the last 50 years, he has been a resident of Kekaha, a small, peaceful town on the leeward coast of Kaua`i. Jim is the author of three books, A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Hawai`i, The Birds of Kaua`i, and Hawai`i’s Butterfiles and Moths.

His photos have appeared in textbooks, conservation literature, and popular magazines including Audubon, Smithsonian, and National Geographic.

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