Wildlife on Hawaii’s isolated islands is almost 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, making it rather unique. Birds endemic to the islands, but not found anywhere else, are usually divided into two groups. Birds brought from other parts of the globe are usually divided into two groups. It’s surprising to learn that there is just one woodpecker in Hawaii!
WOODPECKERS IN HAWAII
Hawaii is home to a diverse range of species. Storms, hitchhiking boats, and human error may all introduce them. I was unable to locate any documented sightings of woodpecker species, despite the fact that it is feasible that a woodpecker has accidentally made it to Hawaii.
Therefore, a wandering woodpecker couldn’t establish a colony on Hawaii if they did so. Yet, a bird has developed to take on the duties of a woodpecker. The ʻakiapōlāʻau is upon us!
The ʻakiapōlāʻau (ah-kee-ah-POH-LAH-OW) isn’t a true woodpecker, but a honeycreeper species. Honeycreepers have extended, bent bills that enable them to sip nectar from inside flowers and evolved on Hawaii. The ʻakiapōlāʻau, on the other hand, is sometimes referred to as the Hawaiian woodpecker since it acts more like a woodpecker than a honeycreeper.
Did you know that Hawaii is the only state without hummingbirds? In addition, honeycreepers have evolved to be nectar-seeking birds. In our article about why there are no hummingbirds in Hawaii, we talk more about it.
Now, let’s continue with the woodpecker impersonator.
Females have a duller olive color than males. The upper beak extends far out in front of the lower bill in a downward arc, and they have a black beak. They don’t drink nectar, unlike other honeycreepers. The majority of their diet consists of insects, such as spiders and beetle larva.
They creep along tree branches, especially dead ones, and use their lower bill to tap on the branch to locate insects. Once they find something, they use their lower bill to chisel a hole into the branch, and their curved upper bill to pry it out.
They use their lower bill to tap on the branch in order to locate insects, particularly on dead ones. They use their curved upper bill to pry it out after they’ve discovered something, digging a hole into the branch with their lower bill.
Their curving upper bill may also be used to explore rock and bark crevices. Sap that flows out of the holes they’ve dug may also be devoured. The ʻakiapōlāʻau’s woodpecker-like behavior may be seen in this video.
HABITAT AND NESTING
These birds may be located in high-elevation montane woods on the Hawaiian island of Hawaii (the “Big Island”) between 4,500 and 6,900 feet. The most common location for nests is in ohi’a trees, with one egg (occasionally two) being placed.
ʻAkiapōlāʻau has a low reproduction rate, with the female taking care of the egg and the male bringing her food and a nestling. Just one egg is laid each year, and not all of the eggs will develop into adults. Each couple will have a kid every year, if the worst comes to worse.
Sadly, just a few hundred ʻakiapōlāʻau exist, and they are an endangered species. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is thought that they were widespread, but they quickly faded. The decline of these species is influenced by a variety of factors.
Both the eggs and the birds are eaten by rats and cats, both of whom arrived on the island as novel species. Human activity, logging, and grazing have all contributed to habitat degradation. This decreases the number of places for birds to breed and feed, as well as splitting the population into smaller groups.
Mosquito-borne avian illness is also a concern. Birds like the ʻakiapōlāʻau have no immunity to mosquitos and diseases they transmit, and mosquitos do not exist on the island. The birds may escape mosquitoes by remaining at or above 4,500 feet, but suitable habitat is limited.
It may come as a surprise that Hawaii lacks any genuine woodpeckers, given its isolated position, although there are several species we are familiar with that never made it. Many indigenous Hawaiian species, on the other hand, have adapted to diverse ecosystems. As a bird that drills holes in bark and explores tight spaces to discover hard-to-reach insects, the ʻakiapōlāʻau takes the woodpeckers’ role.