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Rare Hawaii Forest Bird Regains Lost Hawaiian Name

The Hawai'i Creeper (Loxops mana) had lost its name for a century, until one researcher found it again.
June 09, 2017

Rare Hawaii Forest Bird Regains Lost Hawaiian Name

As a Maui ocean tour company, it's not every day that we blog about an animal that's not aquatic. Then again, it's not every day that an animal's lost Hawaiian name is found, but that's exactly what happened to the Hawai'i Creeper (Loxops mana). This rare forest bird that lives in the koa forest of the Puʻu Makaʻala Natural Area Reserve had no known Hawaiian name for about a century, until a tenacious researcher rediscovered it.

The name the researcher found was ʻAlawī. The researcher, was Noah Gomes, a Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park cultural practitioner and recent graduate of the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Having earned a masters degree in Hawaiian language and literature, Gomes was armed with the foundation he needed to explore some of the earliest documented Hawaiian literature to find reference to this beautiful and rare forest bird.

Determined to find an answer, Gomes spent his time sifting through various historical documents, including old Hawaiian newspaper articles. When he had gathered enough clues pointing to the name ʻAlawī, he published a thesis on it, and the name was approved by the Hawaiian Lexicon Committee on February 25, 2017. Following that, a story of his research appeared in the Elepaio journal in the May-June 2017 issue.

To celebrate and spread awareness about the discovery in true Hawaiian fashion, a naming ceremony was recently held by Gomes and two of his associates. In response to the discovery, the following is a quote from Emma Yuen, the Native Ecosystems Program Manager with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

“Rediscovering the traditional name of the ‘Alawī strengthens the close relationship of Hawaiian culture with our native plants and animals. This celebration fills us with pride and a sense of kuleana to protect native forests – the home of these unique creatures, and the source of inspiration, beauty, and cultural identity.”

So, what stands out about this diminutive little forest bird? Being similar in appearance to the Amakihi, the small yellow and green ‘Alawī had often been confused with its relative. What set it apart enough to make it recognizable as a different species was its behavior, which included a preference for preying on insects in koa forests. But what's especially charming about the ‘Alawī is the fact that it's so curious, it often approaches humans in the forest. Bird watchers and ‘Alawī seem to find each other equally interesting, although the duration of that interest is generally shorter for the bird. After all, survival puts pressure on a bird's schedule.

‘Alawī is one of the four endangered forest birds found exclusively on the Big Island of Hawaii. Like many other native Hawaiian birds, its once broad territory is now restricted to higher elevation rainforests that are too cold for mosquitos, which carry avian malaria. The ‘Alawī can be found in the 18,730-acre Pu‘u Maka‘ala NAR.

While no one can say with absolute certainty that ʻAlawī is Loxops mana, the supporting evidence is unusually substantial. There are very few other birds that match the same description of ʻAlawī. In any case, both scientists and Hawaiian cultural practitioners have embraced Gomes' compelling research and the name ʻAlawī for Loxops mana.

Seeing as we specialize in Maui ocean tours and know that there are some native Hawaiian aquatic species with unknown Hawaiian names, it's easy to wonder if Gomes will turn his gaze on the ocean and make some more discoveries. More than one success of this magnitude is a lot to ask for, but we can always hope! Mahalo!

Blogs for June 2017

The History of Lahaina Harbor

Posted on June 30, 2017

The History of Lahaina Harbor

As you may or may not know, our Maui ocean tours operate out of Lahaina Harbor, just a block from Front Street with all its shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Then there are the museums, and many historic sites that you might walk… Continue Reading

Our 4th of July Maui Fireworks Cruises

Posted on June 23, 2017

Our 4th of July Maui Fireworks Cruises

Making plans for your 4th of July weekend on Maui? Lahaina Town will have the only aerial fireworks show on the island, and considering how popular this celebration has been in previous years, we don't expect this one to be any different. That… Continue Reading

New Sunset Dinner Cruise and Maui Theater Combination

Posted on June 16, 2017

New Sunset Dinner Cruise & Maui Theater Combination

Interested in finding great Maui package activity deals? As you may already know, we offer deals that combine our Maui sunset dinner cruise with golf, or with a luau, and we're introducing a brand new combo. Now, we officially offer… Continue Reading

Rare Hawaii Forest Bird Regains Lost Hawaiian Name

Posted on June 09, 2017

Rare Hawaii Forest Bird Regains Lost Hawaiian Name

As a Maui ocean tour company, it's not every day that we blog about an animal that's not aquatic. Then again, it's not every day that an animal's lost Hawaiian name is found, but that's exactly what happened to the… Continue Reading

History of Molokini Island

Posted on June 02, 2017

History of Molokini Island

One of the most unique geographic features in Maui County is Molokini, the tiny crescent island just fifteen miles off the coast of South Maui. This picturesque little islet has graced many a stunning ocean sunset photo, its diminutive size in stark contrast to… Continue Reading


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