Hawaii’s Honeycreepers Are in Serious Trouble

From ocean beach to mountain top, Hawaii was once full of birds, but populations went into decline beginning in the late 19th century. While ornithologists were cautiously optimistic that native birds might be able to recover, a new report suggests some of Hawaii’s most famous native birds may be on the verge of extinction—and a harbinger for worse things to come. The rare Hawaiian honeycreepers are among the most varied bird families around, a consequence of what’s called adaptive radiation, the same process that produced Darwin’s famously diverse finches. Although they once roamed from coast to coast on the islands, Hawaiian honeycreepers are now largely confined to mountain landscapes, where cold temperatures keep mosquitoes and the diseases they carry—notably, non-native avian malaria and avian poxvirus—at bay.