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Natural Connections

Jan 18, 2024

A bright red bird with black wings hopped among the flowers, probing for the 'Ōhi'a’s prolific nectar with a sharp black beak. While the bird looked a lot like the scarlet tanagers who nest in the Northwoods, I knew it was not. ʻApapanes’ scarlet feathers match the red of the blossoms they rely on.


A little farther down the trail, we spotted more movement in the trees. Another red bird masqueraded as a flower, but while the red body and black wings looked just like an ʻApapane to me, the beak was bright orange and strongly curved. Having studied our field guides, I knew that this was an ʻIʻiwi (pronounced ee-EE-vee).


These two endemic birds who live only in Hawaii birds share more than a love of ‘Ohi’a nectar. They both descended from the same flock of rosefinches from Asia who got blown off course roughly five million years ago, and found refuge on the young island of Kaua’i. That refuge is shrinking.