Moloka'i Creeper (Paroreomyza flammea): Rare or Extinct Scarlet Flashes in the Lush Moloka'i Forest

by DerdriuMarriner

Found only on Hawaiian island of Moloka'i, Paroreomyza flammea, known as the Moloka'i creeper, has not been sighted since the 1960s. Is this scarlet creeper rare (safe) or extinct?

The Moloka'i creeper is found only on the island of Moloka'i in the Hawaiian islands.

The last official sighting of this scarlet bird was in the 1960s.

Declared as rare, this scarlet creeper is thought either to have become extinct or to have sought safety in the seclusion of remote forests on the island's east coast.

Above: male kākāwahie (left), female (right); Below: male juvenile kākāwahie (left), female juvenile (right)

watercolor by John Gerrard Keulemans (June 8, 1842- December 29, 1912)
watercolor by John Gerrard Keulemans (June 8, 1842- December 29, 1912)


Paroreomyza flammea is commonly known as the Moloka’i creeper. Synonyms, which include Loxops maculata flammea and Oreomystis flammea, reflect the taxonomic bewilderment experienced by naturalists in their attempts to classify the extreme diversity in the honeycreeper avifauna (Latin: avis, "bird" + fauna, "animals") of the Hawaiian islands. Paroreomyza is a finch genus of four species in the subfamily Drepanidinae, Hawai'ian honeycreepers, within the family Fringillidae. About four million years ago, Paroreomyza, now considered the oldest, most divergent genus in its subfamily, likely dissimilated from its Drepanidinae ancestor as a result of selective radiation, whereby a species, in radiating, ie., dispersing, to specific niches within its habitat, i.e., here to the various Hawai'ian islands, displays identifiable variations and adaptations in  shared traits, etc.

Its Hawaiian name, kākāwahie (kah-kah-va-HEE-ay), which means “wood chopping", is thought to derive from the resemblance of its call to the sound of distant wood chopping. Kākāwahie -- not Moloka'i creeper -- is the common name which was officially adopted in 1993 by the American Ornitologists' Union, an organization primarily of professional ornithologists (Greek: ὄρνις, ornis, "bird" + λόγος, logos, "study, research"), that is, scientists specializing in the study of birds.


View from soaring cliffs of lower land, site of former leper colony; Scott Wilson's kākāwahie was seen in 1888 at higher elevations to the south.

Kalaupapa Peninsula, northern Moloka'i
Kalaupapa Peninsula, northern Moloka'i

First recorded European encounter: "a curious sound, --- a continued chip, chip, chip... as a flash of brilliant orange colour passed us in the fog"


The Moloka'i creeper was first described in 1889 by British ornithologist Scott Barchard Wilson (1865-1923) from three specimens that he shot and collected in 1888 while hiking with a Hawai'ian guide in the highlands of Kala'e ("clearness"), near the R.W. Meyer Sugar Mill (now part of Moloka'i Museum and Cultural Center), to the north of which lies the Kalaupapa Peninsula where a leper colony had been established at the east end in 1866. Wilson noted that he had started his trek early on a clear morning from his guest room in the residence of coffee-sugar grower and surveyor Rudolph Wilhelm Meyer (1826-1897). In the afternoon, visibility was suddenly obscured by a "penetrating" mist and cold rain that completely enveloped them, and while wandering in search of the trail

". . .I heard a curious sound, -- a continued chip, chip, chip, not unlike the sound of chopping wood when heard at a distance -- which at first I did not think could belong to a bird; soon, however, I was undeceived, as a flash of brilliant  orange colour passed us in the fog; when, on trying to follow it up, the continuous metallic note enabled me to get within range and I fired, bringing down two birds, which proved to be male and female. Soon afterwards I shot another of the bright-colored males. . . ." (Aves Hawaiienses, p. 39)


First recorded description of kākāwahie was made by R.W. Meyer's guest, ornithologist Scott Burchard Wilson.
R.W. Meyer
R.W. Meyer
R.W. Meyer Sugar Mill, Kala'e, Moloka'i
sugar cane crusher
sugar cane crusher

eight main Hawaiian islands (left to right): Ni'ihau, Kaua'i, O'ahu, Moloka'i, Lana'i, Maui, Kaho'olawe, Hawai'i

The Dole Map of the Hawaiian islands
The Dole Map of the Hawaiian islands

Distribution: A high-flying bird of Moloka'i's lush montane forests


The Moloka'i creeper is so named because it is endemic to (Greek: ἐν, en, “in” + δῆμος, demos, “people, district”), that is, only found in, Moloka'i, a floral paradise lying between Maui and O'ahu in the Hawai'ian archipelago. With its rectangular shape, Moloka'i covers about 261 square miles (676 square kilometers), with an east to west length of 38 miles (61 kilometers) and a north to south width of about 10 miles (16 kilometers).

Moloka'i's spectacular east end, with scenic extremes of deep valleys and steep coastal cliffs, soars to an elevation of 4,970 feet (1,515 meters). Here, the remote Olokui ("tall hill") Plateau rests, at 4,606 steep feet (1,404 meters), in pristine splendor, protected by surrounding cliffs of the Pelekunu and Wailau ("many waters") Valleys reaching half a mile (800 meters) upwards towards the Pacific Ocean's expansive skies.

In this spectacular, densely forested, lush ecosystem of diverse flora and fauna, the Moloka'i creeper cruises from sea level to vertiginous heights, while favoring safe boggy highlands with ‘ohi’a (Metrosideros polymorpha) and ‘olapa ("flash") (Cheirodendron trigynum) trees in the moss-shrouded, abundant understory, that is, the lowest arboreal (Latin: arbor, "tree") height level, below the crown layer of the forest canopy.


natural beauty which surrounded kākāwahie in native habitat

Halawa Bay and Valley, northeastern Moloka'i
Halawa Bay and Valley, northeastern Moloka'i

Habitat: 'ōhi‘a trees (Metrosideros polymorpha) in mountainous rainforests


Kākāwahie are known to frequent the vast tracts of 'ōhi‘a trees (Metrosideros polymorpha) in the montane rainforests of eastern Moloka'i.

In the 1890s kākāwahie were observed at a range of elevations, from a few hundred feet (under 100 meters) above sea level to the highest peak at 4,970 feet (1,515 meters). The species particularly flitted in the areas of Hälawa, in the northeast, Kala'e, inland from the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the mid-northern coast, and Püko‘o, in the southeast.

At lower elevations, small groups were occasionally viewed as they foraged in wooded gulches.


Native Ohia-fern forest lies at the Pu`u Ali`i Ridge above Pelekunu Valley.
Native Ohia-fern forest lies at the Pu`u Ali`i Ridge above Pelekunu Valley.

Externals: What the Moloka'i creeper looks like


Moloka'i creepers are distinguished from other species in the Hawai'ian honeycreepers' subfamily, Drepanidinae, by their size, which tends to be larger, and by noticeable sexual dimorphism (Greek: δι-, di-, "two" + μορφή, morphē, "form"), which is phenotypic (Greek: φαίνω, phainein, "to display; to show" + τύπος, tupos, "model, type"), or intrinsically characteristic, differences, such as coloration, between males and females.

With a length of about 5 inches (13 centimeters), the Moloka'i creeper weighs about half an ounce (14 grams).

A completely scarlet, i.e., orange red, body, framed with scarlet brown wings and tail, dramatically distinguishes the plumage of the male.

The female typically has rusty brown upperparts and grey or buff underparts, occasionally highlighted by rusty edges or with orange throats.

Gradations of color from brown to scarlet are presented in juvenile males.

Legs are light pink brown, and their bills are short and straight.


head and bill of Oreomystis flammea (previous scientific name for Moloka'i creeper)

illustration by John Gerrard Keulemans (June 8, 1842-December 29, 1912)
illustration by John Gerrard Keulemans (June 8, 1842-December 29, 1912)

Diet: Few details apart from hanging upside down to eat


Consistent with fellow creepers on the other Hawaiian islands, kākāwahie often hangs upside down to search for insects on the under sides of branches and leaves of their favorite trees, ‘öhi‘a and ‘ölapa. Its short, straight beak, which differs from the long, thin curve of nectarivorous honeycreepers, is consistent with mouthparts of general insectivores. Kākāwahie have been observed devouring large, unidentified moth species which they clutched with their feet and tore apart with their beaks. Remains of unidentified caterpillar species have been found in the stomachs of kākāwahie specimens.


Rescue behavior: Mobbing and scolding predators


Kākāwahie emits various call notes, such as "cherk", "chik", "chip", and "sweet." These calls establish contact with their family, warn of intruders, scold an irritant, or cry for assistance against attack. Family members, joined by other kākāwahie in proximity, respond to a distress chirp by swarming and mobbing an attacking predator, accompanied by an endless stream of scolding chirps.


An evergreen plant in the Hydrangea family, kanawao grows as a shrub or a tree and consistently coexists with kākāwahie's world

kanawao (Broussaisia arguta)
kanawao (Broussaisia arguta)

Synecology: Vegetation preferences


Synecology (Greek: σύν, syn, “with” + oικoλoγία, ecologia, “house” + “study”) identifies interrelationships between kākāwahie and other inhabitants of the site, such as persistent floral communities.

Consistently coexisting floral species include:

  • wild bananas (genus Musa),
  • kanawao (Broussaisia arguta) in the Hydrangea family Hydrangeaceae,
  • käwa‘u shrub (Ilex anomala) in the holly family Aquifoliaceae,
  • köpiko ("navel") (Psychotria mariniana) in the coffee family Rubiaceae,
  • lobeliads (genus Clermontia) in the bellflower family Campanulaceae,
  • öhi‘a trees (Metrosideros polymorpha),
  • ‘ölapa trees (Cheirodendron trigynum) in the ginseng family Araliaceae, and
  • olomea shrubs (Perrottetia sandwicensis).


ʻōhiʻa lehua: consistently coexists with kākāwahie in native habitats

ʻōhiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) flower and leaves
ʻōhiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) flower and leaves

Endangerment, Rarity, or Extinction: No scarlet flashes, no chipping calls on Moloka’i


While healthy, visible populations of kākāwahie were observed in the nineteenth century and in the first decade of the twentieth century, thereafter rapidly declining numbers were subsequently noted, to the extent that the species was considered rare and endangered by the 1930s.

The last official sightings of kākāwahie occurred, in the same location and by the same observer, in the early 1960s. At that time kākāwahie was already thought to be extinct. Then in 1961 Hawaii State Fish and Game Warden Noah K. Pekelo Jr. (July 17, 1930-March 21, 1993) sighted a pair in the vicinity of Pëpë‘öpae ("shrimp crushed") Bog (21° 7′ 8″ North latitude, 156° 53′ 45″ West longitude), which, at an altitude of 4,800 feet (1,463 meters), is near the summit of Kamakou (Peucedanum sandwicense) Peak, Moloka'i's highest elevation, in the ruggedly formidable heights of the Pelekunu ("smelly [for lack of sunshine]") Valley on the northeast coast. The next year, 1962, Warden Pekelo sighted three Moloka'i creepers, one male and two females, or two juveniles. Warden Pekelo's sighting of one male the next year, on April 29, 1963, was the last official sighting.

Kākāwahie was not detected during bird surveys that have been conducted in the  last two decades of the twentieth century and in the first decade of the twenty-first century: Hawai'i Rare Bird Search 1994 to 1996 and Hawai'ian Forest Bird Surveys in 1980, 1988, and 2004.


hopeful places of secret sanctuary where kākāwahie has found refuge

detail of USFWS Figure 3, with Abbreviated Title and Numbered Place Names caption added by Derdriu
detail of USFWS Figure 3, with Abbreviated Title and Numbered Place Names caption added by Derdriu

Endangered Species Act


On October 13, 1970, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added kākāwahie to the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) List of Endangered Native Fish and Wildlife as a species endangered with extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now suspects that the species may be extinct. Both the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), a global environmental network headquartered in Gland in southwestern Switzerland, and BirdLife International, a global conservation federation which is the designated authority for the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, have assessed kākāwahie's status as extinct.

While retaining an endangered status for kākāwahie, the Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, is uncertain about the status of this Moloka'i native, considering that kākāwahie is either extremely rare or indeed extinct:

"Whether this rare bird has found refuge in the lush `ohi`a forests high on the rugged slopes of east Moloka`i is unknown." (Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawai’i Forests & Wildlife Teacher Resources)


Last sightings of kākāwahie were in the vicinity of this fragile ecosystem which is located near the summit of Kamakou Peak, Moloka'i's highest point.

Pepe'opae Bog, Kamakou Preserve
Pepe'opae Bog, Kamakou Preserve

Preservation: Conserving and protecting natural sites against degradation and hostile intruders


The presumed enemies of kākāwahie's existence are linked primarily with nonnative species, human intervention, and consequential habitat degradation or destruction. Forested habitats at lower elevations have been massively disturbed by agriculture and grazing by introduced ungulates (Latin: ungulatus, "hoofed"), many of which have become feral, such as goats (Capra hircus) and pigs (Sus scrofa). Chital, or axis, deer (Axis axis), which were gifted to King Kamehameha V (1830-1872) in 1868, and cattle (Bos taurus), now no longer feral on Moloka'i, had their heyday in the late nineteenth century, causing extensive degradation through browsing and soil compaction. Non-native predators, such as black rats (Rattus rattus) and Polynesian rats (Rattus exulans), as well as avian malaria (Plasmodium relictum) transmitted by non-native mosquitoes, have posed serious threats to native species, including kākāwahie.

Human intrusion has taken predictable forms in clearing for agriculture and settlement. Additionally, the male kākāwahie's feathers were prized for adornment of royal ceremonial garments, and definitely by the late nineteenth century kākāwahie were sought as specimens for private and public collections. Of the 138 known extant kākāwahie specimens, which were mainly collected between 1888 and 1907, 134 are held in major museums throughout the world. An additional thirty specimens have been recorded as shot but lost.


possible sanctuary for kākāwahie: eastern Moloka'i with portion of Kamakou Preserve and Moloka'i Forest Reserve

Aerial view of Moloka'i's east side
Aerial view of Moloka'i's east side


Measures to staunch the imbalance of increasingly fragile floral and faunal species in Moloka'i, brought about by endangerment, rarity, or extinction, emphasize the importance of preservation of the landscape, especially the eastern rainforest ecosystem.

  • In 1982 The Nature Conservancy of Hawai'i (TNCH) created the Kamakou Forest Preserve, at an elevation of (1,000 to 1,600 meters), with the purchase of 2,774 acres (1,123 hectares) from the Moloka'i Ranch.
  • TNCH also formed the Pelekunu Preserve, rising from sea level to 5,249 feet (1,600 meters), with the purchase of 5,759 acres (2,312 hectares) of the resplendent Pelekunu Valley from Moloka'i Ranch.
  • Two natural area reserves, Oloku'i (1,621 acres; 656 hectares) and Pu'u 'Ali'i (1,333 acres; 538 hectares), established in 1985, are bordered by TNCH's two preserves as well as the Moloka'i Forest Reserve, comprising 11,690 noncontiguous acres (4,730 hectares) established in 1912 by Proclamation of Walter Francis Frear (October 29, 1863-January 2, 1948), third Territorial Governor of Hawai'i.


Two species of Hawaiian honeycreepers appreciate mixed forests of endemic Acacia koa and ʻōhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha) evergreen trees.

top: female 'Akepa (Loxops coccineus), endangered since 1975; bottom: male (left) with female (right) Moloka'i creeper
1899 watercolor by Frederick William Frohawk (July 16, 1861-  December 10, 1946)
1899 watercolor by Frederick William Frohawk (July 16, 1861- December 10, 1946)

Hope: Scarlet flashes against the green backdrop of pristine seclusion


Surveys which were conducted focused on the area of the Pelekunu Valley and Kamakou Preserve, kākāwahie's historical habitats. An important area which was not searched, however, was another historical habitat, the remote Oloku'i Plateau, which, with its 1,621 acres (656 hectares) of pristine, cloud-shrouded splendor, offers privacy and safety in an ideal habitat for kākāwahie.

It is hoped that a relict (Latin: relictus, "left behind"), that is, remaining, population of kākāwahie is surviving and, indeed, flourishing, flitting confidently like scarlet sparks surging upwards from strong flames, in this formidable haven that fiercely protects its secrets in the way that nature knows best, by inaccessible geography and inalienable geology.


Perhaps safety of mountain fastness shelters kākāwahie: Waikolu Lookout, Kamakou Preserve, where peaks swoop down 3700 feet (1127m) to valley and ocean.

Waikolu Lookout, Kamakou Preserve,
Waikolu Lookout, Kamakou Preserve,
Moloka‘i Creeper painting by Sheryl Ives Boynton
detail of painting "Moloka'i creeper" by Sheryl Ives Boynton
detail of painting "Moloka'i creeper"...



This page is dedicated to kākāwahie and to all who hope and work for kākāwahie's survival and safety.


"Kakawahie" by John Zorn on 2009 album O'o (named for extinct Hawaiʻi ʻŌʻō [Moho nobilis])

A tree with dark bark and orange oval fruit in the Rubiaceae (coffee) family, kōpiko consistently coexists with kākāwahie in native habitats.

kōpiko (Psychotria mariniana)
kōpiko (Psychotria mariniana)



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Long, bumpy road into Moloka'i Forest Reserve passes through cattle ranch lands.

Moloka'i Forest Reserve
Moloka'i Forest Reserve

Sources Consulted


Baker, Paul E., and Helen Baker. Kākāwahie (Paroreomyza flammea) and O`ahu `Alauahio (Paroreomyza maculata). In: Alan F. Poole and Frank Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, No. 503. Philadelphia: The Birds of North America, Inc., 2000.

Banko, Winston E. History of Endemic Hawaiian Birds Specimens in Museum Collections. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, 1979.

“Forest Birds: Kākāwahie or Moloka’i Creeper, Paroreomyza flammea.” Hawai’i’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, October 1, 2005. Honolulu: Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources, 2005.

Hawaiian High Islands Ecoregional Planning Team. An Ecoregional Assessment of Biodiversity Conservation for the Hawaiian High Islands. The Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i, 2006.

Ives-Boynton, Sheryl. Hawaii A-B-C Coloring Book. Honolulu: Ka’imi Pono Press, 1995.

“Kalaupapa Settlement Boundary Study Along North Shore to Halawa Valley, Molokai.” National Park Service: Pacific West Region, Honolulu. Last updated October 24, 2001.

  • Available at:

“Moloka’i Creeper (Paroreomyza flammea) Hawaiian name, Kaka-wahie.” Hawai’i Forests & Wildlife Teacher Resources. Honolulu: Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Updated 8/30/02.

  • Available at:

"Moloka'i Forest Reserve." Hawai'i Forest Reserve System. Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

  • Available at:

Munro, George C. Birds of Hawaii. 2nd Edition. Rutland VT and Tokyo Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc. 1964.

National Park Service. Kalaupapa Settlement Boundary Study Along North Shore to Halawa Valley, Molokai. Site Investigation Report by Bryan Harry and Gary Barbano. Last updated October 24, 2001.

  • Available at:

"Oloku'i." Hawai'i Natural Area Reserves System. Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

  • Available at:

Pekelo, Noah, Jr. “Nature notes from Molokai.” ‘Elepaio 24 (1963): 17-18.

“Place Names of Hawai’i.” Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library. University of Hawai’I Press.

"Pu'u Ali'i." Hawai'i Natural Area Reserves System. Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

  • Available at:

Reynolds, Michelle H., and Thomas J. Snetsinger. “The Hawai’i Rare Bird Search 1994-1996.” Studies in Avian Biology 22 (2001): 133-143.

Rothschild, Lionel Walter. The Avifauna of Laysan and the Neighbouring Islands with a Complete History to Date of the Birds of the Hawaiian Possession. Illustrated with Coloured and Black Plates by Messrs Keulemans and Frohawk; and Plates from Photographs, Showing Bird-Life and Scenery. Four volumes. London: R.H. Porter, 1893-1900.

  • Available at:

Scott, J.Michael, Stephen Mountainspring, Fred L. Ramsey, and Cameron B. Kepler. Forest bird communities of the Hawaiian Islands: their dynamics, ecology, and conservation. Studies in Avian Biology No. 9. Waco, Texas: Cooper Ornithological Society, 1986.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Draft Revised Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Forest Birds. Portland: Region 1 US Fish and Wildlife Service, August 2003. (428 pages)

  • Available at:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Maui-Molokai Forest Birds Recovery Plan. Portland: Region 1, 1984. (110 pages)

  • Available via HathiTrust at:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Revised Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Forest Birds. Portland: Region 1, 2006. [622 pages]

  • Available at:

Wagner, W. L., D. R. Herbst, and S. H. Sohmer. Manual of flowering plants of Hawai'i. Bishop Musuem and University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 1990.

Wilson, Scott Barchard, and Arthur Humble Evans. Aves Hawaiiensis: The Birds of the Sandwich Islands. London: R.H. Porter, 1890-1899.

Yoshinaga, Alvin Y. "A naturalist's visit to Moloka'i in 1896." 'Elepaio, Volume 57, No. 1 (1997): 76-79. Translation and annotation of: H.H. Schauinsland, Hugo Hermann, "Ein Besuch auf Moloka'i, der Insel der Aussatzigen." Abhandlungen naturwissenschaflicher Vereine zu Bremen, Volume 16 (1906): 513-543.


Pristine grandeur where, hopefully, flocks of kākāwahie thrive, away from human contact and out of sight.

North Shore Cliffs from Kalawao scenic overlook in Kalaupapa National Historic Park
North Shore Cliffs from Kalawao scenic overlook in Kalaupapa National Historic Park
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Hawaiian Honeycreepers by H. Douglas Pratt

Harold Douglas Pratt, Jr. (born 23 July 1944) enjoys a worldwide reputation as an ornithologist and wildlife photographer/illustrator.
Hawaiian honeycreeper books

Hawaii Watercolor Map: black t-shirt

Hawaii Watercolor Map
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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/19/2014, DerdriuMarriner
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


DerdriuMarriner on 10/24/2013

EliasZanetti, Yes, reckless, as in joyriding to create roadkill (even though nature has a right to go out for a bite to eat at night) or as in taking too many specimens for collections or as in fluffing up clothing or hats with feathers. What if every single species has a role to play, and some day we just might realize what it was?
Thank you for visiting and commenting.

EliasZanetti on 10/24/2013

Good, well researched article. Unfortunately, human activity (especially the reckless one) drives more and more species closer to extinction.

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