Image by Judd Patterson
The palila is a critically endangered bird endemic to Hawaii. Palilas only live in a small area on the mountain Mauna Kea. Like many birds, males have brighter yellow colors than females. 1-year old birds have 1 white stripe on their wing, and 2-year olds have 2 stripes. Palila’s diet is almost 90% māmane products. Māmane is a tree that is also endemic to Hawaii. The palila eats the māmane’s yellow flowers, seeds, nectar, young leaves and leaf buds. Nestlings and fledglings also eat the protein-rich caterpillars that can often be found in the māmane’s pods. Lower elevation māmane trees make flowers and pods at a different time then higher elevation trees, so by moving up and down the mountain palilas are able to have a year-round supply of food from the māmane. The rest (10%) of the palila’s diet is mostly made up of fruit from naio trees. Palilas are monogamous, and both the male and the female will build the nest. They’re are usually 2 eggs, but there can be up to 4. The female will incubate the eggs for about 17 days, and then the male and female will feed the nestlings for four months. They begin flying at 25 days. The palila is a bright, amazing type of Hawaiian honeycreeper.
Why Are They Endangered?
The palila used to be found on the islands of O’ahu, Kaua’i, and Hawai’i, however they now only live in a small area of Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea is now the only place where they can find enough food year-round. This small area is only 5% of their historical range. One reason palilas are endangered is habitat loss caused by humans and invasive species. Much of the māmane forest the palila depends on to survive has been cleared for agriculture. Invasive species such as domestic sheep and mouflon sheep decimate māmane trees. Other invasive species such as rats, cats, and mongooses also pose a danger to the palila; because of the positioning of their nests, it is easy for tree-climbing creatures to access them and eat eggs or nestlings. As the amount of these tree-climbing predators increases, so does the danger to the palila’s nests. Either too much or two little rains also adversely affect the palila. Quick, heavy rains might kill young nesting birds if their parents are away, and droughts reduce the amount of insects and māmane pods available for food. Like the ‘Akikiki, another endangered Hawaiian bird, mosquito-borne avian diseases also affect them. These diseases are exacerbated by climate change. Lastly, the palila is affected by its low reproductive rates and low survival rates; year old birds have only a 36% survival rate and older birds have only 64%.
māmane trees, flowers and pods, images by Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project
a recently hatched palila, the white wing stripes on the palila, images by Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project
The palila depends completely on the māmane tree; if they go extinct, so does the palila. Māmanes are also threatened by deforestation for agriculture. By protecting the palila, we also protect the māmane tree.
What Can You Do?
Thankfully, the Endangered Species Act protects palilas, helping them by conserving their habitat and removing invasive species. There is also a fence around the palila’s critical habitat to protect it from sheep and goats. You can help by donating to organizations that help protect palila land and maintain this fence. You can also tell people about this fantastic bird!
Beacham's Guide to the Endangered Species of North America. . Encyclopedia.com. 30 Sep. 2020 . (2020, October 09). Retrieved October 09, 2020, from https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/science-magazines/palila