Bye bye birdie? – Life/Conservation

Bye bye birdie? – Life/Conservation – Hawaiian honey-creeper bird

Kim Y. Masibay

The Hawaiian honey-creeper, or po`ouli (poh-oh-U-lee), may be Earth’s rarest bird. Scientists believe only three are left! A male and two females live within 1.5 miles of each other in dense rainforest on the northeast slope of Maui’s Haleakala volcano. But as far as scientist know, the birds have never mingled. And unless they meet soon–and mate soon–and mate–the species faces imminent extinction.

After failed attempts to introduce a female and male in the wild, wildlife officials now plan to net the birds and mate them in captivity. “If we didn’t intervene, these birds might never find each other,” says Paul Henson of the U.S. Fish, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Po’ouli, or Melamprosops phaeosoma, is the size of a sparrow and looks like it’s wearing a black mask. The secretive bird survives by foraging for insects, spiders, and small snails in the thick understory, or ground-level rainforest brush.

Discovered in 1973, the po`ouli population was then estimated at 200. By 1985, it plummeted by 90 percent. Why? Scientists blame feral (wild) pigs, which trampled the birds understory habitat in the 1980s. In recent years, state wildlife officials have stepped up to protect the birds’ habitat. And scientist hope captive breeding will help them tweet on.

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