In response to a 2010 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed protection for the ‘i‘iwi as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This bird, a bright-scarlet, nectar-feeding Hawaiian honeycreeper, was once widespread across all of the main Hawaiian Islands, but is now primarily found at higher elevations on East Maui and the island of Hawaii. The number one threat facing the species is climate change, which is driving the spread of highly lethal mosquito-borne diseases.
“The ‘i‘iwi is a spectacular, iconic Hawaiian bird that desperately needs Endangered Species Act protection to survive,” said the Center’s Loyal Mehrhoff. “But the good news is that if we protect it, it has a good shot at dodging extinction. A recent study by the Center found that the majority of U.S. birds with endangered species protection are improving.”
The ‘i‘iwi (Drepanis coccinea, also known asVestiaria coccinea) is a medium-sized honeycreeper that lives in native forests of ohia and koa. It is one of more than 50 species of honeycreepers that evolved, in a spectacular example of adaptive radiation, from a single finch-like bird that colonized Hawaii 2.5 million to 4 million years ago. Two out of three Hawaiian honeycreepers are now extinct, and most of the remaining honeycreepers are either already listed as threatened or endangered, or are declining. The ‘i‘iwi has seen a 92 percent decline on Kauai in the past 25 years and a 34 percent decline on Maui. As temperatures increase with global warming, so does the spread of introduced mosquito-borne diseases like avian malaria — which is almost 100 percent fatal to the bird.
“Protected areas that we once thought could save the ‘i‘iwi are now expected to be uninhabitable in the future because of the expanding range of mosquitoes and malaria,” said Mehrhoff. “So it’s crucial for the ‘i‘iwi to get the help it needs to avoid extinction and recover. This will require removing or greatly reducing the threat from introduced mosquito-borne diseases, as well as restoring and protecting native Hawaiian forests.”