The Green Leaf

Saving the Palila

December 13th, 2013
The population of the Palila, a Hawaiian honeycreeper, has declined 66 percent in the past decade. Fewer than 2,200 birds are currently left. Photo courtesy of DLNR/by Jackson Bauer.

The population of the Palila, a Hawaiian honeycreeper, is critically endangered. Its population has declined 66 percent in the past decade. Fewer than 2,200 birds are currently left. Photo courtesy of DLNR/By Jackson Bauer.

Hawaii actor Jason Scott Lee, is lending his voice to a new public service announcement aimed at helping to save the critically endangered Palila, which begins airing statewide this week. The Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resource's Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and American Bird Conservancy have initiated the new outreach campaign.

You can find the PSA at

The Palila (Loxioides bailleui) is found in a small patch of mamane forest on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea on Hawaii island.

It has a vibrant, yellow head, strong bill and delightful call — and is endemic to Hawaii, meaning it occurs only in Hawaii and nowhere else. The Palila, which belongs to the Hawaiian Honeycreeper family, is also critically endangered. More than 15 in this family are now extinct.

The population of Palila, which once lived across most of Hawaii island, has declined 66 percent in the last decade. Fewer than 2,200 birds are currently left due to the shrinking of their habitat and food source — healthy mamane forests — which are being damaged by non-native sheep, goats and cattle. Other threats include long-term drought, feral cats and mongoose that prey on the adult birds and nestlings.

"Not many people are familiar with what a Palila is and why they are worth saving," said Robert Stephens, coordinator for DOFAW's Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project, in a press release. "What makes the Palila special is that they are a classic example of the spectacular evolutionary process that occurred in the remoteness of the Hawaiian islands. They survived in the dry forests for thousands of years by adapting to a food source, mamane pods, that is toxic to other wildlife. Palila belong here and are one of the things that makes Hawaii one of the most amazing places on the planet."

The American Bird Conservancy has made the Palila one of its high-priority species for bird conservation work in Hawaii.

Native Hawaiians have loved the Palila, along with other native species, since ancient times. Queen Emma visited Mauna Kea in the early 1880s and composed a series of mele to commemorate the event, including one which describes the memorable song of the Palila.

Besides removing non-native grazing animals, the state is maintaining a fence around the Palila's critical habitat on Mauna Kea. Volunteers are also restoring Mauna Kea's mamane forest.

In January, a nine-by-12-foot mural featuring the Palila will be on display on a prominent building in downtown Hilo.

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