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The endangered 'I'iwi is a rare Hawaiian honeycreeper that makes its home in native Ohia forests. It feeds on the nectar of blossoms in ohia and other trees and has lost much of its habitat to cattle, farming and logging. Its scientific name, Vestiaria conccinea , refers to the ornamental use of its feathers in ancient Hawaiian times.
'I'iwi painted by F.W. Frohawk in the late 1800s.
The Nature Conservancy on Moloka'i has particular interest in preserving the 'I'iwi and other native Hawaiian birds. In order to defend the territory of all native birds, the Conservancy has fenced areas within the Kamakou and Pelekunu Preserves to keep down the pig population. The problem with pigs is their penchant for wallowing, which creates depressions in the rainforest forest floor where water stands. Standing water becomes the incubator for mosquito larva and mosquitoes carry avian malaria, which kills many species of native Hawaiian birds.
Though rare, 'I'iwi are some of the most easily seen Hawaiian birds with their scarlet plumage and red beaks in stark contrast to their black wings. The younger birds, however, have more spotted golden plumage and ivory bills and were mistaken for a different species by early naturalists in Hawai'i.
Explorer and ornithologist Scott Barchard Wilson hiked throughout Hawai'i, collecting birds during the late 1800s. He noted that the 'I'iwi had been often mentioned in the logues of explorers. "It is not a matter of surprise that many naturalists should have hastened to describe and figure so remarkable and brilliant bird," Wilson wrote.
The red breast feathers of 'I'iwi were commonly used for the red feathered robes of Hawaiian royalty and their priests. The 'I'iwi was not particularly shy and some legends have it that Hawaiian bird hunters held out a bunch of flowers and grabbed the bird's beak when it came to feed.
The bird is also often mentioned in Hawaiian folklore.
Pelts of the 'I'iwi were collected by Wilson and taken back to England to create the illustration onn this page for The Ibis, a British ornithological journal, which published chapters of a book that was in progress, called Aves Hawaiiensis: The Birds of the Hawaiian Islands.
Today 'I'iwi is more commonly found on the Big Island, Maui and Kaua'i, and more rarely on O'ahu and Moloka'i. They are no longer found on Lana'i.