Manu Minute: 'Amakihi, The Forager

Nov 4, 2020

An adult male 'amakihi. Male 'amakihi have brighter yellow plumage than their female counterparts.
Credit Ann Tanimoto-Johnson

With over 850,000 individual birds on Hawai'i island, the 'amakihi are among our most common honeycreeper species. Still, a sighting of this yellow singer is a treat for any birdwatcher.

With over 850,000 individual birds on Hawai'i island, the 'amakihi are among our most common honeycreeper species. Still, a sighting of this yellow singer is a treat for any birdwatcher.

The 'amakihi are first-class foragers. Like other honeycreepers, they hunt for nectar and insects in 'ōhi'a forests. But as climate change and fungal pathogens shrink this traditional habitat, the 'amakihi are adapting. Biologists have observed 'amakihi foraging for nectar in non-native trees, and the little bird will sometimes even venture into residential areas in Puna, Kona, and Ka'ū.

A juvenile 'amakihi.
Credit Ann Tanimoto-Johnson

In fact, the 'amakihi are among the last native non-shore birds that can be found near sea level. Since the introduction of the Southern house mosquito, the primary carrier of avian malaria, most honeycreepers have retreated to higher elevations.

Remarkably, the 'amakihi can survive this deadly disease, and may even be developing a genetic resistance to it.

Adult female 'amakihi have an olive-yellow plumage, while their male counterparts are bright yellow. At first glance, they might be mistaken for the non-native white-eye or saffron finch, but they can be distinguished easily by their sharp trill. In Hawaiian folklore, the 'amakihi often offered advice or friendly criticism to those who traveled through their forests.

A spectrogram of the 'amakihi's song. Its "sheet-sheet-sheet-sheet" trill sounds a bit like a sewing machine.
Credit The LOHE Lab of UH Hilo