Have you ever heard the squeaky sound of balloons rubbing together? That’s what the call of the iiwi reminds me of. The bird is very distinct in both sound and appearance. Its bright red feathers, pink curved bill, and black wings and tail distinguish it from the rest of Hawaii’s forest birds.
The iiwi is one of more than 50 species of honeycreepers that are believed to have evolved from a single ancestral species which colonized the Islands millions of years ago.
Its bright red feathers were highly prized by the Hawaiians who used them to make feathered capes, helmets, and other ornaments for the alii, or chiefs. The birds were caught by professional bird catchers who smeared tree sap onto a branch next to a flower blossom. When the bird lighted on the branch to sip the flower nectar, it was caught.
When I’m up in the mountains where native plants and animals live, one of the things that alert me to the iiwi’s presence is the buzzing sounds their wings make as they flutter from tree to tree. Their movements are also unique as they spend much of their time hanging upside down poking their long, curved bills into flowers. The lehua blossom is one of their favorite foods.
Like many native species, the iiwi are becoming scarce. Disease, habitat loss and predation by introduced animals have taken its toll on the birds.
A couple of places to look for these birds are Kokee State Park on Kauai and Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.