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Manu Minute: The tricky red-billed leiothrix

Ann Tanimoto-Johnson Red-billed leiothrix2.jpg
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson
/
HPR
Red-billed leiothrix are brightly colored birds with olive-green plumage on their heads, napes, and backs. Their throats are bright yellow-orange, and their wings are olive-brown with red, orange, and yellow striped patches. They have bright red bills with pinkish-yellow legs and feet, and forked tails.

At just over 5 inches beak to tail, the red-billed leiothrix is small enough to sit comfortably in the palm of your hand. But don't underestimate this little bird — its song packs a punch.

Ann Tanimoto-Johnson Leiothrix nest.jpg
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson
/
HPR
Three eggs of the red-billed leiothrix.

A leiothrix won't hesitate to "scold" or loudly chatter if it feels threatened. But its better known its long, melodic songs — power ballads, if you will.

The combination of their talkative nature and their multicolored plumage made leiothrix popular cage birds throughout the 20th century, which was how they first came to the islands. Through a few escapes and a series of intentional releases, leiothrix established a healthy population in Hawaiʻi that persists to this day.

Red-bill leiothrix get their name from, you guessed it, their ruby-colored beaks. They also have bright patches of red and yellow on their wings.

Despite their bright coloration, leiothrix can be hard to spot. They like to forage in the dense shrubs and small trees near the forest floor where they can blend in with the green foliage. Your best bet is to listen for their harsh chirps or their loud songs.

AMTJ_Manu Minute Red-billed leiothrix Spectrogram video.mp4

Patrick Hart is the host of HPR's Manu Minute. He runs the Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) Lab at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson is the Lab Manager & Research Technician in the Hart Lab/Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) Bioacoustics Lab. She researches the ecology, bioacoustics, and conservation of our native Hawaiian forests, birds, and bats.
Savannah Harriman-Pote is a producer for The Conversation and Manu Minute. Contact her at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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