He Hoa o ke Awāwa

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Photo: Puaiohi
Puaiohi are brownish-gray and delicately styled with white eye rings and pale pink legs. – Photo: CRK

Nestled inside moss-lined crevices along the steep rocky ledges of Kauaʻi’s upland steams, Puaiohi (Myadestes palmeri) quietly guard their nests, sheltered from the heavy rains.

The elusive and critically endangered Puaiohi, or small Kauaʻi thrush, represents a different lineage than the famous Hawaiian honeycreepers. Five unique thrush species once graced the islands, two of them endemic to Kauaʻi, but only Puaiohi and the Hawaiʻi ʻŌmaʻo remain today.

Kauaʻi’s thrushes (the other is the extinct Kāmaʻo) are known for their shy and inconspicuous nature, slender bills and round bodies. They forage on the ground and understory for native fruits and insects.

The name, pu-a-i-o-hi, sounds like the bird’s reedy, five-syllable song and alludes to their preferred lush habitat. Puaiohi are best found by listening for their chattery calls along the gurgling, steep waterways of the Alakaʻi Plateau. Up until 2016, 240 Puaiohi were bred and released through conservation breeding efforts. Today, a stable population of roughly 500 remains.