Species Spotlight

Kauaʻi ʻŌʻō

Species Spotlight: Kauaʻi ʻōʻō Moho braccatus
Kauaʻi ʻōʻō (Moho braccatus)

Names: Kaua`i `O`o or `O`o `a`a (Moho braccatus). `O`o = family name, `a`a means dwarf. The Kaua`i `O`o was a type of honeyeater and a Hawaiian songbird.

Size: Around 8 inches, roughly the same length as a pencil, before it’s sharpened! As with other critters on the smaller side (humans included), size mattered to these honey tongued warblers – it affected their position in the pecking order ;-)

Sound: Considered one of Hawaii’s finest native crooners with a flute-like, liquid song. Kaua`i `O`o calls were said to be audible more than 400 yards away. Loved-up couples could be spotted in ‘öhi‘a branches, side by side, singing. 

Favourite hangout: Forest! Anywhere from the seashore to the mountaintop – `O`o `a`as weren’t too picky. By the early 1900s, as their lush home receded, so had these trill-meisters, to the canyons and valleys of the Alaka‘i Swamp, a plateau (really!) in the middle of Kaua’i.

Ohi'a Lehua tree

Favourite snack: These dark-feathered honeys were all about nectar, which they guzzled from trees and plants like the 'öhi'a, lapalapa, and banana with their tongues. They also gobbled fruit and seeds. But this dream-come-true diet wasn’t enough. To get nutritionally balanced meals,  `O`o `a`as supplemented with cockroaches, moths, beetles, and spiders. Yum!

Love language: It’s not clear whether Kaua‘i ‘Ōōs mated for life. What’s certain, though, is that they didn’t want other birds around when things got raunchy. 

If you see them: You can’t, not even if you visit Kaua’i. The `O`o `a`a was last seen in 1987. But if you’re curious, you can listen to its gentle, piping song in Skyrim

Red flags: It’s got to be said, these pint-sized songsters were unfortunate with their colouring. Their black and bright yellow feathers were prized by early Hawaiians, who used them to make cloaks, headdresses, and other regalia. That didn’t go down too well with `O`o `a`as, nor did being eaten! On top of this, settlers destroyed their forests and arrived with non-native rats, cats, birds, mosquitoes, and diseases! The final straw was possibly hurricanes, which toppled trees perfect for nesting. 

A waxwing bird
The Bohemian waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

Facts: North American and Eurasian waxwings were Kaua`i `O`os’ closest relatives, and not, as previously thought, Australasian honeyeaters. A long time ago – say, 20 million years or so – when their forebears touched down on the youthful Hawaiian Islands, they evolved into many different and unique species. Tropical forest-loving, nectar-swilling `O`o `a`as were one of these. Sadly, the species was listed as extinct in 2000. The last known recording of one is believed to be of a male calling its mate.

Personality type? The One You Won’t Notice. Sweet Tooth? Eternal Crooner? 

How at risk is it? EXTINCT (EX).


The Unseen