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Palila Counts 2018 with Garry Dean

Once again this February, I volunteered to help survey the Palila (Loxioides bailleui) on the southwest slopes of Mauna Kea. The surveys were held from February 5th to February 9th, although the last 3 transects on the east side of the mountain were postponed until the following week because of high winds.  This year only the core areas are being surveyed;  every 5 years the surveys include the whole mountain between the elevations of 6000 -10000 feet (Figure 1.), and 2017 was the last year we did so.  2022 is the next year we can to volunteer for the whole mountain surveys.

This year Kala Asing headed up the project with his team from Mauna Kea Restoration Project. People from state, federal, and private agencies as well as private citizens helped to complete this project.

In my last blog, I covered the methodology of the surveys. (If you are interested, check out this document.) In this blog, I am going to write a little about the Palila and other honeycreepers in the subfamily drepanidinae, which all evolved from the Eurasian Rosefinch that probably made it to Hawaii around 3-4 million years ago. This example of adaptive radiation is the most spectacular in the bird world.

The Palila is the closest living honeycreeper we have to the original colonizer, the Eurasian Rosefinch.  From this one original colonizer, the honeycreepers evolved into over fifty different species.  The most visible change is their bill shapes and body color.  In Hawaii, there are many different niches, so these birds changed the way they made their living, or in other words, they changed what they fed on in different environments. The Palila’s favorite food are the immature seed pods of the mamane (Sophora chrysophylla). These seeds are actually poison to the other birds, letting the Palila have a monopoly on their food. It also nests in the Mamane and feeds on the young leaves and flowers.

Unfortunately, over half of these birds are already gone. Therefore, it is really important that we collect data and monitor the populations of these beautiful birds. In doing so, we help them survive not only for our enjoyment and future generations but also to keep our forests healthy and thriving with a robust ecosystem. These birds of Hawaii are truly the jewels of Hawaii’s forests. So get out and enjoy Hawaii’s honeycreepers anytime you can. 


View as the sun comes up at top of transect 9000’

The lights are Pohakuloa headquarters.

On the gulches we had to cross (no, not just that puddle at my feet!)

On the gulches we had to cross (no, not just that puddle at my feet!)

Kala assigning transects the night before

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