A volcano is the only refuge this cute little bird has left. What kind of pig would destroy its habitat with death and disease? Oh that’s right, literal ones.
Yes, there’s even trouble in paradise, at least for the Hawai’i creeper, an unobtrusive bird that, surprisingly, lives in Hawai’i and creeps up and down branches looking for insects or the odd glug of nectar. It was already keeping itself to four little groups, but since 1983, this has dropped to three and most now live in the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on the slopes of Mauna Kea. It’s a dormant volcano, so not exactly pouring with lava as implied, but it’s still the tallest in the island chain and a pretty cool place to seek sanctuary. Unfortunately, deforestation and feral hoofed animals are the actual disasters.
The former you’re probably well acquainted with by now, but the latter, such as pigs and goats, bring with them alien plants and mosquitoes laden with joy such as malaria and pox, to the point of an epidemic among Hawai’i’s birds in the early 90s. The invading mozzies haven’t let up either, with some of Hawai’i’s flitters reducing by as much as 90% per year, and prompting the Hawai’ian government to consider genetic modification in order to wipe them out. Just in case you needed another reason to hate mosquitoes.
And, while the Hawai’i creeper also faces fierce competition from the Japanese white-eye, it has yet another serious problem. The ladies are almost nowhere to be seen, and not because the chaps turned into the other kind of creeper.
As of 2013, fewer than a quarter of the population is female, and since they bear more of the childcare burden, this could spell trouble. The females usually incubate, with the chaps feeding them during their stint, but once the two eggs have hatched, parenting isn’t always 50-50. If one doesn’t pull their weight, the other overcompensates, resulting in a weakened carer and young. Less than ideal, even if you aren’t having to fight in the aisles for food or protect your open cup nest from rodent raids. It even had to fight for our attention.
Compared to other island birds, the formerly common “olive-green” creeper was considered drab and nondescript, and its 19th century discoverer Scott Wilson just lumped it in with the more vibrant ‘amikihi (Chlorodrepanis virens) until he got back to England and realised. It’s only thanks to recent, painstaking research by National Park Ranger Noah Gomes that we know it even had a local name – alawī – but nowadays it’s more noticeable thanks to its noisy teenagers and their dee-dee, dee-dee-dee tweeting. It doesn’t exactly help itself by blending into flocks of other species after breeding season, but, now we’re aware of it, we can try to help.
First off, we bravely fought back against the alien plants and hooves with fences, native plants and by herding cattle away from certain areas. The Hakalau refuge was also extended to include the Kahuku area in 2003, where most of the creepers were tottering about on the trees, and there’s a captive breeding programme too. But its population is still in decline, and unless its dating pool widens, the mosquitoes are dealt with and we stop lopping down trees, it’s still not out of the gradually thinning woods.
Latin: Loxops mana (formerly Manucerthia mana / Oreomystis mana)
What? Small bird that creeps up and down trees
Where? Clue’s in the name. Okay, fine, the big island, mostly on the slopes of Mauna Kea in the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
How big? 11-13 cm / 4.3-5.1 ” long
Endangered? Yes – due to its small range, mosquito-borne diseases, habitat destruction, and competition with the Japanese white-eye. They’re also very short on ladies.
Probable motto: I’ve probably suffered the worst habitat destruction, alien invasion, and severely reduced romance options outside of a blockbuster film.
They look cute. Do they need my help at all?
Yes – both their habitat and gene pool are under threat. Island Conservation are running a Hawai’ian honeycreeper campaign here.
Hakalau Forest Refuge also has its own website and invites new members, and the following bird conservation organisations are working to protect the Hawai’i and other creepers across the islands:
Updated 12th October 2018 – An enormous thank you to Jacob Drucker, who not only let me use the beautiful featured image, but helped with additional details about the Hawai’i creeper’s local name and conservation status.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing
Big Island Video News. 2017. “Video: Ranger discovers native bird’s lost Hawaiian name“. Bigislandvideonews.com
BirdLife International. 2018. “Manucerthia mana“.
“Forest birds“. 2005. Hawaii’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy.
Freed, Leonard. 2013. “Females lead population collapse of the endangered Hawaii creeper“. University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Lepson, J. K. and B. L. Woodworth. 2002. “Hawaii Creeper (Loxops mana)”, version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.680
“Manucerthia mana“. No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
“Mauna Kea“. No date. Hawaii Center for Volcanology.
Pratt, H. Douglas. 1992. “Systematics of the Hawaiian ‘creepers’ Oreomystis and Paroreomyza“. The Condor 94:836-846.
Pratt, D. 2018. “Hawaii Creeper (Manucerthia mana)“. In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
“Revised recovery plan for Hawai’ian forest birds“. 2006. US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wilcox, Christie. 2013. “Conservation success to boy’s club: the Hawaii creeper in danger of extinction“. Discover.
Featured image credit: Jacob Drucker