Open-File Report 2013–1150
Naturalists in the 1800s described the ʻIʻiwi (Vestiaria coccinea) as one of the most abundant forest birds, detected in forested areas from sea level to tree line across all the major Hawaiian Islands. However, in the late 1800s, ʻIʻiwi began to disappear from low elevation forests, and by the mid-1900s, the species was largely absent from low- and mid-elevation areas. Today, ʻIʻiwi are restricted to high-elevation forests on the islands of Hawaiʻi, east Maui, and Kauaʻi, with a few birds apparently persisting on Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, and west Maui. ʻIʻiwi are highly vulnerable to introduced disease, and the prevalence of avian malaria in low and mid-elevations is believed to be the cause of ʻIʻiwi being restricted to high elevations where temperatures are too cold for the development of the disease and its mosquito vector. With global warming, it is feared that the disease will move quickly into the high-elevation forests where the last ʻIʻiwi reside, threatening their viability. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned to list the ʻIʻiwi as an Endangered Species in 2010, and this report provides a comprehensive review of the abundance, distribution, and trends using historical survey data as well as the most recently available survey information (up to 2012). We estimate the total population size of ‘I‘iwi at 550,972–659,864 (mean = 605,418) individuals. Of these, 90 percent are on the island of Hawaiʻi, followed by east Maui (about 10 percent), with less than 1 percent on Kauaʻi. ʻIʻiwi population trends vary across the islands. ʻIʻiwi population in Kauaʻi has experienced sharp declines, with a projected trend of 92 percent decline over a 25 year period based on the 2000–2012 surveys. On East Maui, the northeastern region has experienced declines (34 percent over a 25 year period), while the southeastern region has been stable to moderately increasing. On the island of Hawaiʻi, population trends are mixed. On the windward side, populations are largely declining, although the northern section (Hakalau Forest) has stable populations. On the leeward side, results suggest a strongly increasing population, with estimates of as much as a 147 percent increase over a 25 year period from the Puʻu Waʻawaʻa region. However, it is unclear how much these results from the leeward side of Hawaiʻi show a population trend contrary to population trends in all other areas or are an artifact of a sparsely sampled area. Trends by elevation suggest a large decrease in numbers of ʻIʻiwi at elevations below 1,200 meters on Kauaʻi and northeast Maui. Low elevation ʻIʻiwi populations also appear to have decreased in other regions, although low-elevation areas are not surveyed as often as other areas because of their lack of native forest birds. An exception to this pattern was the lower portions of the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Kona Unit in the central leeward part of the island of Hawaiʻi, where populations appeared stable at the lower elevations. Based on the most recent surveys (up to 2012), approximately 50 percent of ʻIʻiwi live in a narrow, 500-meter band at elevations of 1,200–1,700 meters, suggesting that ʻIʻiwi are vulnerable to future shifts in climate.
First posted July 26, 2013
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Paxton, E.H., Gorresen, P.M., and Camp, R.J., 2013, Abundance, distribution, and population trends of the iconic Hawaiian Honeycreeper, the ʻIʻiwi (Vestiaria coccinea) throughout the Hawaiian Islands: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013-1150, 59 p.