Rare endangered bird found living on volcano

A bird thought to have died out more than 2 years ago was found and is giving researchers hope for the critically endangered species.

The golden, thick-billed bird, known as a kiwikiu was found alive on the slopes of a Maui volcano in July.

Also known as a Maui parrotbill, the bird is listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and is an endemic species to Maui, Hawaii.

Image: Zach Pezzillo/Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project

It’s believed the small colourful bird, which is a type of Hawaiian honeycreeper, once inhabited the whole island of Maui and the neighbouring island of Moloka’i.

Humans and animals such as pigs, cats and mosquitos have dwindled the birds’ population down to just 150.

Back in October 2019, 7 kiwikiu were taken to a Natural Area Reserve in Maui. It was believed that all 7 had died due to an epidemic of avian malaria transmitted by non-native mosquitos until this discovery. The bird found was identified as wild #1 from the 2019 translocation by a tag on his leg.

Malaria infected mosquitos are one of the biggest dangers towards the kiwikiu, with just one bite being enough to kill the bird. It’s predicted that if the mosquito population continues increasing on Maui, the Maui parrotbill may face functional extinction in the wild by as early as 2027.

Due to this, there’s been a lot of conservation efforts planned by the Maui Forest Bird Working Group who hope to boost the population back to a healthy number.

These efforts include:

  • Temporarily sending a decent sized captive population to zoos in the mainland US which could be then used to potentially introduce a wild population to Hawaii as a backup,
  • Managing and restoring more of their natural habitat in Maui for added shelter, and
  • Ensuring mosquito populations are controlled as much as possible in the bird’s native habitat.