A single, relictual population of Palila Loxioides bailleui, a Hawaiian honeycreeper, survives on the slopes of Mauna Kea volcano on the island of Hawai'i, where it feeds principally on flowers and green seeds of the mamane tree Sophora chrysophylla. The Palila was listed as an endangered species by state and federal governments because of continuing damage to its habitat by browsing Feral and Mouflon Sheep Ovis aries and O. musimon and Goats Capra hircus and because of the bird's restricted range and low numbers. Ecology of the Palila was studied from 1987 to 1996. Annual population estimates fluctuated between 1 600 and 5 700 and averaged 3 400 birds. Estimates varied with availability of mamane seeds, which are less abundant in drought years. In drought years, most birds did not attempt to breed, and survival rates were lower because of a shortage of food. Availability of mamane seeds also showed large seasonal variability. While some nests were preyed upon by Owls Asio flammeus, Cats Felis catus and Rats Rattus rattus, losses were high at the end of the season from unexplained death of eggs and chicks. Genetic studies did not implicate inbreeding depression. Neither avian malaria nor avian pox appeared at this site, where the mosquito vector was absent. However, weather and food shortage worsened towards the end of the nesting season. Availability of food and habitat remain the principal factors limiting increase in the Palila population. Recovery efforts now focus on reducing numbers of feral ungulates, fire management, removing mammalian predators, and developing techniques for captive propagation and introduction to currently unoccupied sites within the bird's former range. Reforestation adjacent to the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve would allow the Palila population to expand and grow.
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Status and management of the Palila, an endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper, 1987-1996