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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote® Kipukas and Akis

Air Date: Week of
The Akiapolaau’s beak is a handy tool. (Photo: Jack Jeffrey, Smithsonian)

Hawaii is made up of chain of volcanic islands. The islands are geologically unique, and also home to many unusual birds, as Michael Stein reports.


GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.


GELLERMAN: The Hawaiian Islands lie above a unique geologic structure called a hot-spot - a plume of magma pushes through the mantle creating volcanoes. The volcanic islands are also home to a unique assembly of birds, found nowhere else in the world. Here’s BirdNote®’s Michael Stein.

A female Aki’. (Photo: Daniel W. Clark)


You’re hearing the song of one of Hawaii’s rarest forest birds, the ‘Akiapola’au.


This male ‘Akiapola’au – or Aki’ for short – is singing in an isolated grove of trees on the slopes of an active volcano. In Hawaii, such groves are known as kipukas. A kipuka is an island of native forest surrounded not by water but by recent lava flows. Kipukas are green oases in a sea of black lava. They’re critical areas of native habitat -- home to species found nowhere else on the planet. The Aki’ possesses what one observer has called a “Swiss Army knife” bill. Its short, straight lower beak is paired with a long, slender, curved, and flexible upper beak. As it forages up and down tree trunks and across the branches, the short half hammers like a woodpecker’s bill, and the upper probes for insects under the bark and lichen.

A kipuka is a grove of trees surrounded by lava from an active volcano. Pictured is a kipuka below Holei Pali, on the Big Island of Hawaii. (Photo: Todd Stradford)


The species is found only on the Big Island of Hawaii. Some of the roughly 1,000 Akis left on earth live and breed in kipukas on the lower slopes of Mauna Loa, Hawaii’s largest active volcano.


In living with a rumbling volcano, Aki’ and kipuka perform one of nature’s most remarkable balancing acts.



GELLERMAN: To see some photos of the rare Aki’, set your sights on our website LOE dot org.



Song of Akiapola’au provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, recorded by T.K. Pratt.

BirdNote® Kipukas and Akis was written by Bob Sundstrom


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