Photo: Palila
Palila are seriously messy eaters, and this male seems to be saving a morsel of māmane mash on his bill for later. - Photo: Ann Tanimoto Johnson/ LOHE Lab

High on the western slopes of Mauna Kea, nestled in the tangles of an old naio tree, a hidden puff of golden and gray feathers slowly emerges to the boisterous calls of the morning’s dawn chorus. Here is Palila (Loxioides bailleui), our last endemic finch-billed honeycreeper and a relatively late riser compared to their avian counterparts of Kaʻohe.

Curiously gregarious, Palila commonly forage in small family groups in search of the green seed pods of the māmane tree. Fortunately, evolution has granted Palila a unique tolerance to the toxic alkaloids of māmane. Palila also reap nutritional benefits from māmane’s nectar and the larvae of native Cydia moths laid within the seeds.

One of Palila’s namesakes is no other than the famous warrior, Palila, from the islands of Kauaʻi and Oʻahu. Palila is known by the people of Kohala for their clamorous olokē (clamorous, agitated) singing style and characteristic pah-lee-lah call.