Conservation status: Critical
Casey & Jacobi, 1974
The Poʻo-uli or Black-faced Honeycreeper (Melamprosops phaeosoma) is an endangered bird that is endemic to Hawaiʻi. It is considered to be a member of the Drepanididae (Hawaiian honeycreeper) family, and is the only member of its genus. The vernacular name (often erroneously spelled "poʻouli", "poouli", "poʻoʻuli", "pouli" or "poo-uli") means 'dark head' and refers to the bird's characteristic feature, a black 'bandit' mask (This is no original Hawaiian term; in fact, whether there was a native name as for many endemic birds of these islands is not known. The vernacular name should technically be alouli or alo uli, "dark face", since poʻo refers to the top, not the front side, of the head).
The poʻo-uli wasn't discovered until 1973 by students from the University of Hawaiʻi, who found the bird on the north-eastern slopes of Haleakala on the island of Maui. It feeds mostly on snails, insects, and spiders and nests in native ʻohiʻa forests.
It is believed that there are now at most two remaining individuals of this species, down from an estimated 200 when the species was first discovered. The dramatic population decline has been attributed to a number of factors, including habitat loss; mosquito-borne diseases; predation by pigs, rats, cats, and mongooses; and a decline in the native tree snails that the poʻo-uli relies on for food.
Both of the two remaining birds are at least seven years of age, and nearing the end of their reproductive lifespan. It is uncertain whether they are a male and female pair or both of the same sex, or even if they are still alive. They have been deemed extinct now. Last one sighted was on December 27, 2006 in Maui.
In 2002, a female was captured and taken to a male's home range in an attempt to get them to breed. The female, however, had flown back to her own nest, which has a mile and a half away, by the next day. There was also a ten-day expedition which was scheduled to begin on April 27, 2004. The goal of this was to capture all three birds, and bring them to a bird conservation center on the island in the hope they would produce offspring.
On September 9, 2004, a male poʻo-uli was captured and taken to the Maui Bird Conservation Center in Olinda, in an attempt to captively breed the bird. However, biologists could not find a mate for the male before it died of avian malaria on November 28, 2004. Biologists are now searching for the two remaining birds, which have not been seen for over a year and are probably dead too. Tissue samples have been taken from the male for possible future cloning, but as neither birds of the opposite sex are now available nor natural behavior can be imprinted on possible cloned individuals (assuming that cloning of birds will actually be established as a working technique, which currently is not the case), this does not seem probable. As such efforts would likely compete with conservation funding of extant bird species, it may not even be desirable as a cloning attempt would both be highly likely to fail and at the same time jeopardize the survival of other highly threatened species. The paper by VanderWerf et al. (2006) wraps up the conservation issues regarding the poʻo-uli.
- BirdLife International (2004). Melamprosops phaeosoma. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is critically endangered
- VanderWerf, Eric A.; Groombridge, Jim J.; Fretz, J. Scott & Swinnerton, Kirsty J. (2006): Decision analysis to guide recovery of the poʻouli, a critically endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper. Biological Conservation 129: 383-392. HTML abstract