Kauai Oo (Moho braccatus)

Kauai Oo

The story

The fourth species ‘o’o clung to survival for much longer than the others. It was also the most divergent of the four. Whereas the other three are very similar looking creatures that show their close affinity quite clearly, the Kauai ‘O’o was comparatively aberrant. By no means so flashy in appearance, it was an altogether more sober-looking bird. Clearly, it was taking a rather different evolutionary path on its home island which is farther west and a little more remote than the other ‘o’o islands.

It was probably this very remoteness that enabled the species to survive longer than its relatives, and, although it was extremely rare from the beginning of the twentieth century, a few individuals held out until the 1980’s. Their stronghold was a wild place known as the Alaka’i Swamp, a wet montane plateau broken up by ravines. This area acquired something of a worldwide celebrity as a natural refuge for endangered birds and several rare species and races clung to existence here and nowhere else. Although it provided a sanctuary of sorts for many years, the Alaka’I Swamp was not in itself enough to save the Kauai ‘O’o. The small colony that had established itself there dwindled slowly until by 1981 it seemed that just a pair survived.

The female of this pair disappeared during 1983 as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Iwa. The male continued to be seen until 1985. A rather evocative photograph of this individual exists. It was taken by Hawaiian bird expert H. Douglas Pratt and shows the bird sheltering forlornly in the branches of a tree. The flute-like call of this bird may have been heard during 1987 but the bird itself was never seen again.

Although the Kauai ‘O’o managed to linger on until comparatively recently, its main decline was remarkably rapid. George Munro, a man who spent much of a very long life studying Hawaiian birds, recorded that in 1891 the species was common and occurred from sea-level right up to the mountain tops. In 1899 he left the island and did not return for 29 years, but when he did finally go back, he failed to see or hear a single individual.

Authority and reference

Cassin, 1855 || Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia 7: 440.

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