|Common Name||Maui Parrotbill|
|Scientific Name||Pseudonestor xanthophrys|
|Lifespan||Up to 16 Years|
|Mass||0.71 – 0.88oz.|
|Habitat||Mesic and wet forests|
|Country of Origin||Maui, Hawaii|
Information & Physical Description
The Maui parrotbill, scientifically referred to as Pseudonestor xanthophrys, is part of the phylum Chordata, family Fringillidae, genus Pseudonestor. This bird species of Hawaiian honeycreeper is also known as kiwikiu.
Being one of the larger types of Hawaiian honeycreepers (small-sized passerine birds endemic to Hawaii), the adult kiwikiu usually measures up to 5.5 inches in size.
The average weight that Maui parrotbills attain as they reach maturity is estimated at between 0.71 – 0.88 oz.
The body coloration is yellow on the breast, belly, and cheeks zone. The wings, tail, back, and crown are colored in hues of olive-green. The supercilium (aka “eyebrow”) is bright, vivid yellow in color.
One of the distinct features of the Maui parotbill is this bird’s beak. The lower mandible is pale ivory in color and shaped like a chisel, while the upper mandible is colored in dark gray, with a shape that resembles a hook.
There are certain differences in the appearance of males and females, making these birds sexually dimorphic. In fact, Maui parotbills are considered one of the most sexually dimorphic of all Hawaiian honeycreepers.
As compared to females, male Pseudonestor xanthophrys species are “equipped” with larger bills, longer wings, and nonetheless, they are known to attain a heavier body mass.
Juvenile Maui parrotbills are light gray ventrally, while the body coloration above is in nuances of gray and green.
Bird species that are somewhat similar in appearance with the Maui Parrotbill, and are endemic to Hawaii, include the Hawaiian Amakihi and the Palila.
The Hawaiian Amakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens) lacks the yellow “eyebrow” that is typical for the Maui Parrotbill. Furthermore, it also has a significantly smaller-sized bill. It is known to occupy Molokaʻi, Maui, and the Big Island in Hawaii.
Hawaiian Amakihi –
Apart from also lacking the yellow “eyebrow” that characterizes the Maui Parrotbill, the Palila (Loxioides bailleui) possesses a visibly stubbier bill. Ultimately, the Palila does not occur at all on Maui, but instead, it can only be found on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea.
Palila – Image Source
The Maui Parrotbill is known to live for up to 16 years.
Ecosystem & Habitat
Being an endemic bird species to Maui in Hawaii, Pseudonestor xanthophrys can be found exclusively in a rather limited in size area encompassing a total of 19 square miles, consisting of wet and mesic forests located at elevations between 3940 and up to 7050ft. on Haleakalā’s windward slopes.
Nowadays, this species is critically endangered. However, according to fossil evidence, the Maui parrotbill used to be found on the island of Molokaʻi, as well as in dry forests located at significantly low elevations of between 660 and up to 980ft.
The current habitat of the Maui Parrotbill consists of undisturbed forests that are greatly dominated byMetrosideros polymorpha (also known as ʻōhiʻa lehua, a species of flowering evergreen tree which is a part of the myrtle family, and is endemic to six of the big islands in Hawaii), and nonetheless, small patches of Acacia koa (ʻōhiʻa-koa) mesic forest.
Maui parrotbills’ habitat consists of a dense understory of various small sedges, shrubs, ferns, epiphytes, and trees, all of which are centered between an area that measures less than 5000 acres, at elevations of about 4300 – 6790ft., located between Lake Waianapanapa, Kuhiwa Valley, upper Kīpahulu Valley, and Puʻu ʻAlaea.
Maui parrotbills spend a huge amount of their time during the day engaged in foraging activities. According to studies, foraging accounts for about 39% of the diurnal time budget of Pseudonestor xanthophrys. Meanwhile, the approximate prey item is believed to account for as little as 1% of the daily energy intake.
Maui Parrotbills make perfect use of their parrot-like bills for the purpose of ripping into stems and branches in order to pluck and then bite open fruit, as well as for the purpose of lifting lichens and barks, looking for invertebrates concealed underneath.Maui parrotbill chicks are fed by regurgitation. Fledglings remain heavily dependent on parental care for about 5 months or even longer, and because of this, it is often the case that sightings are of family groups.
Food & Diet
Maui parrotbills are insectivores. These unique birds use their powerful jaw muscles and large beaks to successfully remove the wood and bark from various native shrubs and trees, and then they eat the insects found underneath.
Some of the trees and shrubs that Maui parrotbills forage in search of food include Broussaisia arguta (kanawao, a perennial flowering plant),Rubus hawaiensis (ʻākala, also known as Hawaiian raspberry),and Metrosideros polymorpha (ʻōhiʻa lehua, a flowering evergreen tree).
Furthermore, when it comes to searching for insects, Maui parrotbills do also bite open fruit.
These extraordinary birds are known to be particularly fond of beetle larvae and moth pupae.
Maui parrotbills are known to forage in pairs in relatively small territories encompassing about 5.7 acres. Also, they have to defend their foraging territories from other parrotbills.
Maui parrotbills are strictly monogamous species. Once they form a pair, this lasts for a lifetime. These incredible birds breed between November and June.
Female Maui parrotbills are in charge of building a nest that is shaped like a cup. It is made out of Styphelia tameiameiae (pūkiawe, also known as maiele) flowering plants’ twigs, and Usnea lichens.
Nests are positioned at 39ft. above the forest floor. Incubation takes 16 days and is performed solely by the female.
A pair of Maui parrotbills is to raise only one single nestling per breeding season.
It takes fledglings five to eight months to learn how to forage, so they remain with their parents for this period of time.
A big part of the problem related to the populations of Maui parrotbills keeping to continuously decrease up-to-date, thus, seriously threatening these species with extinction, is the introduction of mosquitoes, among other invasive species, in Hawaii.
Non-native mosquitoes are to blame for carrying disease to which native birds, including but not limited to the Maui parrotbill, have only very little to no resistance at all. Some of these diseases include avian pox and avian malaria.
While both climate change and habitat loss remain the biggest threats to the well-being of the populations of Maui parrotbills because of greatly reducing these magnificent birds’ suitable habitat, other non-native species of animals imported to the Hawaii Island, such as feral pigs, rats, feral cats, and mongooses, are also known to take a toll on parrotbills.
Sadly, despite being globally known as a tropical piece of paradise on Earth, Hawaii is also the world’s bird extinction capital.
Ever since humans arrived on the island of Hawaii, a total of 71 bird species have gone extinct, with another 24 bird species literally vanishing once Captain James Cook “discovered” Hawaii all the way back in 1778.
Since the natural habitat of Maui parrotbills consists of wet and mesic forests, habitat loss is an extreme threat to the populations of these stunning birds in the wild. It is mainly due to the change of the land in Maui parrotbills’ habitat, related with agricultural purposes, animal grazing, and nonetheless, timber production, why a huge part of these birds’ normal habitat had been rapidly lost.
Apart from direct human interference with the natural habitat of these beautiful living creatures, the introduction of non-native pests, such as rats and mosquitoes, as well as feral ungulates, have all negatively affected the survival of Pseudonestor xanthophrys in direct and indirect ways alike.
To illustrate this better, mosquitoes are associated with the spread of avian malaria, and Maui parrotbills, among other parrotbills, are susceptible to this disease.
On the other hand, rats prey upon the eggs and the young birds, while feral pigs contribute to the uprooting of low-lying vegetation, which is crucially related to parrotbills’ foraging habits. Additionally, pigs are known to create wallows and wallow further serve as avian malaria-infected mosquitoes’ breeding grounds.
It wasn’t before 1967 when the Maui Parrotbill was listed as an endangered species. In 1984, the endemic bird became part of the Maui-Molokai Bird Recovery Plan. Thanks to this particular plan, areas of East Maui were fences, thus, making up for the removal of feral ungulates.
It was in 2003 when the first Maui parrotbill chick was produced as part of the Maui-Molokai Bird Recovery Plan captive breeding program.
Up-to-date, it is the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project that is primarily engaged in field research practices.
Once found throughout Molokai and Maui, a 2009 survey conducted by the Waikamoi Preserve has estimated that the density of Maui Parrotbills’ populations is as little as about 20% of birds per square kilometer.
Nowadays, these birds are only found in the windward preserve located nearby the Haleakala’s summit. The Waikamoi Preserve 2009 survey’s result leads to the conclusion that the population of Pseudonestor xanthophrys has been holding steady, and in fact, even possibly increasing.
However, despite the efforts of many engaged in the preservation of the Maui Parrotbill, and despite the seemingly good news about the native shrub cover in Waikamoi having tripled in the past two decades or so, there is a negative, decreasing trend in these birds’ populations, based on current data provided by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
One of the many threats to establishing a stable population of Maui Parrotbills is related with the consequences of climate change, contributing to an increased rate of storms and floods that easily and abruptly lead to high rates of nest loss, which is especially bothering taking into account the clutch of the kiwikui per breeding season is one-egg only.
It is in the Waikamoi Preserve, where approximately 25% of the population can be found up-to-date, and most of the rest of these birds are known to rest in the Hanawi Natural Area Reserve.
According to recent research published in the Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management, assessing the extinction risk and conservation options available for saving the Maui Parrotbill from extinction, the extinction rates for these amazing birds have always been historically high, as the Hawaiian archipelago has experienced some of the highest extinction rates among forest passerines.
With all of the above being said, experts are certain that the reintroduction of native bird species is a mighty conservation tool that must be used in order to prevent the further extinction of the endangered bird species that remain in Hawaii up-to-date.
Population viability analyses can help greatly in assessing the long-term viability of endangered bird species, including but not limited to the Maui Parrotbill. Based on recent data, Maui’s federally endangered passerine may go fully extinct within 25 years from now, meaning that the world is threatened with losing the incredible Maui Parrotbill species by 2045.
One of the leading factors for driving this horrible decline is suggested to be female mortality. Altogether with the fact that Maui parrotbills have a rather low reproductive potential in captivity, some experts suggest that the best way to save these birds from extinction is none other but sourcing a suitable reintroduction strategy, especially since it is not realistic to rely solely on the possible reintroduction from captive-reared Maui Parrotbills.
It might be the case that the best working reintroduction strategy would be one of translocating wild individuals, especially when keeping in mind that habitat on Leeward east Maui is being restored, thus, capable of providing more favorable habitat, as well as climate conditions, of promoting an increase in the reproductive output of kiwikui.
While it remains unclear whether the reintroduction strategy model shared above is the best one to help with the increase of Maui Parrotbills’ populations, there is no doubt that with a mind to ensuring long-term persistence of the conservation efforts, establishing new populations in a favorable habitat may be, indeed, one of the most suitable and forward-thinking options available.
Availability – Where to Get a Maui Parrotbill
You can not get a Maui parrotbill in the same sense you can get, for instance, a Senegal parrot, among other bird species that are widely kept as pets. Maui parrotbills are endangered with extinction, they are wild birds endemic only to the island of Hawaii, and so it is illegal to keep these majestic creatures as pets.
The only exception to keeping Maui Parrotbills in captivity is when it comes to authorized wildlife researchers and rescuers.
If you ever stumble across anyone offering you Maui parrotbills for sale, immediately contact a conservation officer.
Even though you cannot keep a Maui parrotbill as a pet, and neither can you attract this bird to feeders in your backyard, you can choose to visit the island of Maui, Hawaii, where you can get to meet the local team of experts engaged in the conservation of the one-of-a-kind Pseudonestor xanthophrys bird species.
Hiking in the wet and mesic forests of Maui can grant you the amazing opportunity of catching a glimpse of the Maui parrotbill, and if you are lucky enough, you can even get to make some beautiful photos or videos of these magical living creatures in their natural habitat.
1. Back in 2010, a special kiwikiu name dedication and blessing ceremony was held on September 12th in Waikamoi Preserve. A group consisting of 85 people, among whom community members, conservation donors, and biologists, hiked into the forest early in the morning to attend the celebration of the critically endangered Maui parrotbill.
As the Maui parrotbill used to be a bird with no historically recorded Hawaiian name, the Hawaiian Language Lexicon Committee collaborated with ornithologists to decide that Kiwikiu is an appropriate name for this unique bird species.
“Kiwi” translates into “bent”, “curved,” “sickle-shaped,” referring to the bird’s bill shape. The “kiu” part of the name has a double meaning, as it refers both to the chilly, cold wind that describes the breezes in Maui parrotbills’ natural habitat, and it also refers to the bird’s secretive ways.
Considered one of the most precious biodiversity jewels in Hawaii, the kiwikiu was celebrated with a name song (mele inoa).
During the first half of the 1900s, the Maui parrotbill was actually thought to be extinct, so it wasn’t before the naming chant ceremony that the bird’s heritage and survival were officially celebrated.
2. Despite the efforts of conservation experts, volunteers, donors, as well as the local government, the populations of Maui parrotbills keep decreasing in number. Back in 2010, these birds were estimated at 5000 in number. In 2019, the IUCN estimates the number of mature Maui parrotbills individuals in the wild at 250 – 540, concluding that the population trend is rapidly decreasing.
3. The call of the Maui Parrotbill is considered similar to the song of the Maui Nui ʻalauahio (also known as Paroreomyza montana, a species of Hawaii honeycreeper). The Maui Parrotbill’s call is a short “chirp” sound, while the song of the Maui Nui ʻalauahio consists of a number of chirps every 3 to 5 seconds. Maui Parrotbills’ short song is a “cheer-wee” sound, with the “cheer” notes being richer and slower than these of the ʻākepa (a group of some of the smallest Hawaiian forest birds).
4. The Maui parrotbill lives up true to its name, as it uses the specialized, heavy, parrot-like bill to masterfully split branches in order to extract its primary prey – insect larvae.
5. Maui parrotbills choose a single mate to form a pair with. They remain loyal to their mates throughout their lives.
How to Care for the Maui Parrotbill
The best way to take care of the Maui Parrotbill is to realize the collective responsibility that we, human beings, share in terms of preserving the biodiversity on the planet by putting an end to corrupt practices, such as fossil fuel abuse, plastic pollution, climate change, deforestation.
Being part of our modern-day society, we have the freedom of choice when it comes to embracing the environmental-friendly lifestyle, as well as getting to educate those around us on the dire need of protecting wildlife for generations to come, especially since we are currently a part of the never-seen-before 6th Mass Extinction of Species.
You can also choose to volunteer in various wildlife conservation programs, and nonetheless, you can always choose to donate part of your money to help save wildlife creatures, too.
What Does the Maui Parrotbill Look like?
The Maui Parrotbill is a large type of the Hawaiian honeycreepers. Maui Parrotbills are sexually dimorphic, as males are heavier than the females, with longer wings and larger bills. Both male and female Maui parrotbills are yellow on the belly, breast, and cheeks, with a yellower “eyebrow,” while the back, crown, wings, and tail are olive-green.
Where Does the Maui Parrotbill Come from?
The Maui Parrotbill is an endemic bird species that have originated in the forests of Maui, Hawaii.
What Do the Hawaiian Honeycreepers Eat?
There is a wide diversity of Hawaiian Honeycreepers, such as the Maui Parrotbill, the Telespiza ultima, and the Nihoa finch, to name a few. Some of the Hawaiian Honeycreepers eat snails, others eat fruit, while some eat flowers, arthropods, nectar, or seeds.
What Does the Maui Parrotbill Eat?
The Maui parrotbill eats insects, using its jaw muscles and specifically shaped beak to remove the wood and bark from small-sized shrubs and trees, thus, feeding on the insects that would otherwise remain hidden underneath.
How Many Eggs Does the Maui Parrotbill Lay?
The female Maui Parrotbill lays only one single egg per breeding season, and hence, only one single nestling is to be raised.
Do Maui Parrotbills Migrate?
No, Maui Parrotbills do not migrate. In fact, they can only be found in a rather restricted area within their native range, encompassing a territory as small as 19 acres.
Is the Maui Parrotbill Endangered?
Yes, the Maui Parrotbill is listed as Critically Endangered, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Due to habitat shifting and alternation, related to human interaction and the consequences of climate change, as well as due to invasive non-native species and disease, there are only between 250 – 540 mature Maui Parrotbill individuals left in the wild as of 2019.