4 Bird Species & 1 Mint Plant in Maui County Proposed for US Extinction List
Eight Hawaiian bird species, including four that called Maui County home, and a mint plant last found on Lānaʻi likely have succumbed to the same fate as dinosaurs and gone extinct.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to add 23 US species, including the nine Hawaiian species, to the list of 650 U.S. species that likely have been lost to extinction. Many of the 23 proposed species have not been seen for decades.
“Of all the species listed as endangered or threatened in the United States, nearly a third are Hawaiian,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i director and staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “While the Endangered Species Act has successfully prevented the extinction of 99% of listed species, without urgency, proper funding and protected critical habitat, these nine species may be the canaries in the coal mines for our biodiversity in Hawai‘i. There is no bouncing back from extinction.”
The Hawaiian bird species proposed for the official extinction list: Maui ākepa, Maui nukupuʻu, Molokaʻi creeper, black-faced honeycreeper, Kauaʻi ʻakialoa, Kauaʻi nukupuʻu, Kauaʻi ʻōʻō and Large Kauaʻi thrush.
The Hawaiian plant species proposed for the official extinction list: Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis, a plant from the mint family that is found only in Hawai‘i.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has been exceedingly slow to protect species, according to a news release from the Center for Biological Diversity, which cited a 2016 study that found species waited a median of 12 years to receive safeguards.
Several of the Hawaiian species in today’s announcement went extinct during a delay in the listing process. In total, at least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“It’s heartbreaking that Hawai‘i is known as the ‘extinction capital of the world’,” Phillips said. “Despite making up 30% of the nation’s listed species, our incredibly rare Hawaiian plants and animals receive less than 10% of the money appropriated for recovery.”
Nine months into his term, President Joe Biden has yet to nominate a director for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, although he requested more than a $60 million increase for endangered species — the largest increase requested for the program in history. But, the House Appropriations Committee undercut the president’s budget request by $17 million.
A 2016 study found Congress only provides approximately 3.5% of the funding the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s own scientists estimate is needed to recover species. Roughly 1 in 4 species receives less than $10,000 a year toward recovery.
Two bills moving through Congress would increase protection and funding for endangered species:
- The Extinction Prevention Act (H.R. 3396) creates four grant programs that would provide $5 million per year to fund crucial conservation work for each of the most critically imperiled species in the United States, including Hawaiian plants.
- The Extinction Crisis Emergency Act would direct President Biden to declare the global wildlife extinction crisis a national emergency. The legislation would spur action across the entire federal government to stem the loss of animals and plants in the United States and around the world.
“As many of our species teeter on the brink of extinction, there’s no time to wait,” Phillips said. “The Endangered Species Act is a remarkably effective tool, but only if we use it. Extinction is a political choice, and our decision makers need to wake up and choose to protect life on Earth before it’s too late.”
Maui ʻākepa: This small, 4-inch-long, dusty-green songbird with a small cross bill had a beautiful call. It was a quivering whistle ending with a long trill. Maui ‘ākepa were last seen in 1988 and last heard in 1995.
Maui nukupuʻu: This small, 5-inch-long bird was found in high-elevation mesic and wet forests of ʻōhiʻa lehua and koa trees. Its inch-long bill was used to peck for insects in the bark of these native trees. The last confirmed sighting was in 1996.
Kākāwahie: Also known as the Molokaʻi creeper, the kākāwahie was 5 inches in length and described as either bright red or bright orange with dark wings and tail feathers that resembled flames. Its call sounded like someone chipping or cutting wood. Hawaiians traditionally used the kākāwahie’s red feathers for the capes and leis of aliʻi (royalty). It was last sighted in montane wet forest at ʻŌhiʻalele Plateau in 1963.
Poʻouli: Also known as the black-faced honeycreeper, poʻouli were once thought to exist in the hundreds on Maui. It inhabited only the very wet, easternmost side of Maui, where it rapidly decreased in numbers because of habitat loss, mosquito-borne diseases, predation by invasive species and a decline in the native tree snails it relied on for food. With extinction threatening, efforts were made to capture birds to enable them to breed in captivity. In 2004 the last three poʻouli died in captivity. The poʻouli might be alive today if conservation efforts had received proper funding.
Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis: This species of flowering plant in the mint family was endemic to Hawaiʻi. It had red-tinged or red vein green leaves and white flowers that were occasionally tinged with purple. It was last seen on the island of Lānaʻi in 1914.
Kauaʻi ʻakialoa: The Kauaʻi ʻakialoa was a Hawaiian honeycreeper that lived only on the island of Kauaʻi. Its body was about 7.5 inches long, and the bird had a very long downcurved bill that spanned one third its body length. The ʻakialoa became extinct because of introduced avian diseases from mosquitos and habitat loss.
Kauaʻi nukupuʻu: This stout, short-tailed, medium-sized honeycreeper had a long, decurved bill, with the upper mandible about twice as long as the lower. The male was mostly bright-yellow with olive upperparts, white undertail coverts and a strongly defined black mask and bill. Females were mostly olive-gray above and whitish below, with yellowish highlights in the face, wings, and tail. It was lost to habitat destruction and invasive species.
Kauaʻi ʻōʻō: This small black-and-yellow songbird’s distinctive bell-like call was last heard in 1987. It went extinct because of habitat destruction and the introduction of rats, pigs and mosquitoes. It was the last surviving member of the Mohoidae family and represents the only complete extinction of an entire avian family in modern times.
Kāmaʻo: Also known as the Large Kauaʻi thrush, the kāmaʻo was 8 inches in length with a brownish olive body and gray belly. Its bill and legs were dark, and it fed primarily on fruit and insects. Once considered the most common bird on Kauaʻi, the kāmaʻo was last seen in 1987.