This is a lovely kind of honeycreeper (a kind of small songbird bird endemic to Hawaii), formerly found on the island of Moloka’i. Also known as the Kākāwahie, which means “to break up firewood”; their call reminded listeners of the chip of someone chopping wood. This bird resembled a ball of flame, especially in flight. The males were scarlet red all around. Females had a brownish belly and a rusty-brown back. The 19th century British ornithologist Scott Barchard Wilson shot three of them down while wandering around lost in a patch of fog one night in the Akoke Forest, then collected their skins and brought them back to England, thereby introducing them to western science. At the time they were already rare, and they were gone by the 1970’s.
Causes of its extinction are similar to other Hawaiian birds: deforestation and loss of habitat; avian diseases spread by introduced mosquitoes; introduced non-native predators. Particularly nasty were the diseases like avian malaria and fowlpox spread by non-native mosquitoes; these diseases caused Hawaiian birds to grow lumps which eventually caused paralysis and then starvation. Like many other native birds, native Hawaiians trapped these birds for their beautiful red feathers, which were then used for capes and leis for royalty and nobles on the islands.
Thirty percent of all the world’s extinct birds come from Hawaii; it is a classic example of how the isolation of islands make animals vulnerable to extinction. Scientists believe that more that 45 species of native birds became extinct after colonization by the Polynesians (in about 800 A.D.) and since the arrival of Europeans at least another 25 species have been lost.