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Kakawahie
Paroreomyza flammea
Order
PASSERIFORMES
– Family
FRINGILLIDAE
Authors: Baker, Paul E., and Helen Baker

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Introduction

Käkäwahie (adult female, top; adult male, bottom.)
Figure 1. Historical distribution of Käkäwahie

The ‘alauahio (genus Paroreomyza) are three species of honeycreeper endemic to the Hawaiian Islands of Maui and Läna‘i (P. montana), O‘ahu (P. maculata), and Moloka‘i (P. flammea). On Moloka‘i, the Käkäwahie (pronounced KAH-KAH-va-HEE-ay) was first described in 1889 by Wilson who collected 3 birds at Kala‘e, Kahanui, in June 1888 (Wilson and Evans 1890–1899). Restricted to the native forest on the eastern end of the island, it was still a common bird well known to native Hawaiians. Unfortunately, the species declined rapidly thereafter, becoming very rare by the 1930s and probably going extinct in the 1960s. Thus little is known, or will ever be known, about this intriguing bird.

Wilson and Evans (1890–1899) believed that the species was named Käkäwahie either for the bright flame or scarlet plumage color of the male, or because its call sounded like wood being chopped, and translated the name as “firewood.” Pukui and Elbert (1986), experts on the Hawaiian language, translated the name as “wood chopping.”

The Käkäwahie was the most extreme example of sexual dichromatism in the Paroreomyza, with the eye-catching flame scarlet plumage of the male much more noticeable than the dull rusty-brown plumage of the female and immatures. They were often seen foraging in family groups for invertebrate prey while giving distinctive chip contact calls. Their breeding season was probably similar to that of the Maui ‘Alauahio (P. montana newtoni), with most nest-building in April and May, and most young fledged during late May and June.

The O‘ahu ‘Alauahio (pronounced oh-AH-hu ah-lau-ah-HEE-oh) is very rare or possibly extinct. Cabanis named it in 1850, based on 2 specimens (an adult male and an immature female) that were obtained in 1836–1837 by Townsend and Deppe (Wilson and Evans 1890–1899, Banko 1984). Found only on the island of O‘ahu, the species was common in the late 1890s, but by the 1930s had become rare (Munro 1960). The last probable sighting was of a single bird in the north Hälawa Valley in 1990 (Ellis et al. 1992). Many recent records of this species are viewed with doubt because of its close similarity to the O‘ahu ‘Amakihi (Hemignathus chloris; Shallenberger and Pratt 1978).

The O‘ahu ‘Alauahio is also sexually dichromatic, but less strikingly so than the Käkäwahie. The adult male has a bright-yellow breast and face, with the rest of the plumage bright olive-green. The adult female and immature are an overall dull olive color, both with broad pale tips on the median- and greater-coverts forming a distinct double wing-bar. The female can be distinguished from immatures by the yellow wash on her face and breast, which is less extensive and not as intense as that on the male. Little is known about the habits of this species, but its behavior is reportedly similar to that of the Maui ‘Alauahio and Läna‘i ‘Alauahio (P. m. montana; Perkins 1903, Munro 1960). Two nests were collected in late January 1904, including one that had 2 fresh eggs (Bryan 1905).

O‘ahu ‘Alauahio are probably mainly insectivorous; foraging data suggest that free-living invertebrates are the main diet (Perkins 1903, Bryan 1905, Shallenberger and Pratt 1978, Bremer 1986).