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'I'iwi (Hawaiian Honeycreeper)

Scientific name: Vestiaria coccinea

What's that squeaky song? Peering through tree ferns, you spy a red bird high in the rainforest canopy. It hops from branch to branch, dipping its long curved beak into the flowers for a sip of nectar. After it has visited every lehua blossom, it flies off in search of more nectar.

The scarlet 'i'iwi (ee-EE-vee) is one of the most beautiful birds in Hawai'i. It uses its long, sickle-shaped beak to probe for nectar in native lobeliad flowers and 'ohi'a blossoms. It also feeds on insects and larvae.

'I'iwi usually breed from February to September. Clutches of one to three whitish eggs with dark brown markings are laid in cup-shaped nests. The eggs hatch after 14 days. The newly hatched chicks have bright orange skin, with patches of soft down on their head and wings. After three weeks, the fledglings grow speckled yellow-green feathers and can fly with ease! The red adult plummage will gradually appear first on the breast, then head.

The 'i'iwi was valued by Hawaiians for its orange-red feathers, which were used to make feather capes, helmets and other symbols of Hawaiian royalty. Bird catchers would venture into the forest, looking for trees with blossoms to attract hungry 'i'iwi. Sticky sap was smeared on the branches of select trees. Sometimes the bird catcher would imitate a bird's song, or recite a special chant to lure more birds. An 'i'iwi that landed on the sap would be held fast in the sticky trap!

Although 'i'iwi are still fairly common on most of the islands, it is rare on O'ahu and Moloka'i and no longer found on Lana'i. Most of the decline is blamed on loss of habitat, as native forests are cleared for farming, grazing, and development. Another threat has been the spread of avian malaria.

To learn more about 'I'iwi, visit The Hawai'i Natural Heritage Program and Suite

School paper got you down? Need info on wildlife? Visit The Animal Diversity Web

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