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The Maui ‘Akepa is a small, brightly colored, restless honeycreeper of montane rain forests of Maui. ‘Akepas are unusual in their morphology, plumage, and behavior. Perhaps their most noteworthy character is a lateral asymmetry of the bill: the lower mandible is curved to one side, an extremely rare trait in birds. ‘Akepas use this unusual bill to pry open leaf and flower buds in search of arthropod prey in a manner similar to that of crossbills (Loxia spp.) opening conifer cones.
The Maui ‘Akepa is most closely related to the formerly conspecific Hawai‘i ‘Akepa and Oahu ‘Akepa. ‘Akepas, as a group, are thought to be most closely related to the ‘Akeke‘e (Loxops caeruleirostris) of Kaua‘i Island; they were considered one species between 1950 and 1991 because of their similar bill morphology, despite marked differences in appearance, voice, and breeding biology.
Although first collected by naturalists of the James Cook expedition in 1779 and formally described just 10 years later, the ‘Akepa, like most other Hawaiian birds, languished in relative obscurity for the next two centuries. Widely collected in the 1800s, it was only rarely noted in the twentieth century and was not studied by biologists until after being listed as an Endangered Species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Large-scale surveys in the late 1970s and early 1980s confirmed the near extinction of the Maui ‘Akepa, which is in critical danger of imminent extinction, if not already extinct.
Because of the extreme rarity of this species on Maui, all information presented here is for the Hawai‘i ‘Akepa, unless otherwise noted. It is presumed that the Maui ‘Akepa is similar.