Hawaiian honeycreepers are small passerine birds endemic to Hawaiʻi. more...
Some authorities still categorize this group as a family Drepanididae, but in recent years most authorities consider them a subfamily, Drepanidinae, of the finch family Fringillidae. The entire group is also called Drepanidini in treatments where buntings and American sparrows (Emberizidae) were included in the finch family; today this term is rather preferred for one group of
The group is divided into three tribes, but only very provisionally so. Several taxa appear to be too basal to really place into one of these, and others are best considered incertae sedis.
- Psittirostrini (Hawaiian finches), seedeaters with thick finch-like bills and songs like those of cardueline finches.
- Hemignathini (Hawaiian creepers and allies, including nukupuʻus). These are generally green-plumaged birds with thin bills which feed on nectar and insects
- Drepanidini (Mamos, ʻIʻiwi and allies). These are birds often with red plumage. They are nectar-feeders and their songs contain nasal squeaks and whistles.
Some unusual forms never seen alive by scientists, such as Xestospiza or Vangulifer, cannot easily be placed into any group.
The male Hawaiian honeycreepers are more brightly coloured than the females in the Psittirostrini, but in the Hemignathini, they often look very similar. The flowers of the native plant Metrosideros polymorpha (ʻōhiʻa lehua) are favoured by a number of nectar-eating honeycreepers. Many species of this subfamily have been noted to have a plumage odour that has been termed the Drepanidine odor and suspected to have a role in making the bird distasteful to predators.
The wide range of bills in this group, from thick finch-like bills to slender downcurved bills for probing flowers have arisen through adaptive radiation, where an ancestral finch has evolved to fill a large number of ecological niches. Some 20 forms of Hawaiian honeycreeper have become extinct in the recent past, many more since the arrival of the Polynesians who introduced the first rats and in some cases started destroying habitat for agriculture (James & Olson 1991, Olson & James 1991). The recent extinctions are due to the introduction of other rodent species and the mongoose, habitat destruction and avian malaria and fowlpox. However, conservation efforts are attempting to neutralize these threats.
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