Birds of Hawaii: `Apapane

4 11 2015

photograph by Peter LaTourrette

Hawaiian Birds

Because the islands are more than 2000 miles from North America or Asia there are some amazing birds in Hawaii. It has been said that the absence of predators and minimal competition allowed them to evolve in peace. It has been estimated that there were at one time are least seventy kinds of birds that were unique to Hawaii. Of these some forty percent are already lost to extinction and some thirty percent more that are considered endangered.

`Apapane (Himatione sanguinea) from the finch family, are considered a Hawaii Songbird. They have at least ten distinctive songs and six different calls. They foraging actively through tree tops of Ohia lehua, consuming the nectar from each flower as they pollinate them. The `Apapane will be aggressive with any bird that dares to drink from its flowers—even larger birds. They forage primarily in the upper canopy and only rarely feed from the ground. It also frequents flowering koa and mamane and has been observed feeding in pines and flowering eucalyptus. They also are known to snack on insects such as spiders and caterpillars.

5 inches. Both sexes look similar. The bodies are crimson red with a white abdomen and under tail coverts. The wings, tail, and legs are black. The bill is short, black, and slightly curved. Juveniles are similar to adults except are a grayish-brown color. Their wings produce a distinct whirring sound in flight.

Their nests are made from twigs, moss, ferns, rootlets, and lichens. They have 2-4 eggs that are white with reddish markings, there is a two week incubation period.

In early Polynesia, red feathers were most valued, as red was a sacred royal color. Feathers were plucked from the `Apapane birds and used in royal ‘ahu ‘ula-cloaks sometimes made from millions of the red and yellow feathers of small forest birds. They strode into battle wearing crested helmets, velvety with the scarlet feathers of the ‘i‘iwi and ‘apapane birds.