Manu Minute: The Last Kauaˊi ˊŌˊō

Dec 16, 2020

Standing about seven inches tall, Kauaˊi ˊōˊō had a rich black and brown plumage with bright yellow tufts of feathers above their legs. Their bills were black, a bit more than one inch long, and slightly curved downwards to fit into the corolla of a variety of flowers.
Credit Robert Shallenberger

Special thanks to the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for use of their recordings in today's Manu Minute.

The Kauaˊi ˊōˊō was once commonplace. Its melodic call of oo-oo, for which it is named, could be heard throughout the subtropical forests of the Garden Isle into the early twentieth century. But by the 1980s, only a single pair of Kauaˊi ˊōˊō remained. The male, who likely lost his mate during Hurricane Iwa in 1983, was last recorded in 1987. His solitary song was not only the final call of his species, but also of an entire lineage of birds unique to the Hawaiian islands.

The Kauaˊi ˊōˊō was one of four species in the ōˊō genus, each named after the island where they could be found.

The Oˊahu ˊōˊō and the Molokai ˊōˊō were last sighted in 1837 and 1904, respectively. Predation and habitat loss caused by introduced species likely contributed to their extinction.

The Hawaiˊi ˊōˊō was the largest of these species, with black and yellow tail feathers that could measure up to seven and a half inches. The Hawaiˊi ˊōˊō was thus coveted for its lovely plumage, and the bird was hunted extensively in the latter half of the 19th century. It was last recorded on the slopes of Mauna Loa in 1934.

The ˊōˊō were closely related to another endemic genus of birds, the kioea. Little is known about the elusive kioea, which likely became extinct in 1859. Together, the ˊōˊō and the kioea comprised a unique avian family, Mohoiade. All members of Mohoiade are now gone — they are among at least twenty-five birds and countless other endemic Hawaiian species that we have irrevocably lost in the last two hundred years.

Read or hear more about the birds of Hawaiˊi on our Manu Minute page.