Elepaio -- 蚋鹟 (Chasiempis sandwichensis)

Juvenile Hawai'i 'elepaio, Chasiempis sandwichensis sandwichensis, wet forest form
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Elepaio fact file

Elepaio description

GenusChasiempis (1)

The birds (Chasiempis sandwichensis) belongs to the large family of monarch flycatchers, but is the only species to successfully colonise the Hawaiian Islands naturally (3). It possesses a distinctive, long, brownish-black tail that is often cocked upright, a conspicuous white rump, white tips on the tail feathers and white spots on the wing coverts. There are five subspecies, which all differ slightly in their plumage (2). The crown and back varies from dark brown to more grey, and the white underparts have differing amounts of rufous to light brown streaks on the breast. Bristles poke from the corners of the broad, almost black, beak (2). The females are generally smaller and duller than the male (2), and it is only the male which makes the shrill whistle, el-e-pai-o, from which this species gets its name (3) (4).

Length: 14 cm (2)
12 - 18 g (2)

Elepaio biology

Elepaio are very versatile foragers, and search in every part of the forest for their preferred food: insects and spiders (3). They also use a wide variety of feeding methods to obtain their prey, including gleaning (plucking prey from the foliage or ground), and hawking (chasing after a target and catching it in its beak). They can use their feet to hold down large insects whilst they tear off the wings with their bill; and have even been observed holding large caterpillars in their bill and beating them against a branch (2). The birds’s fondness for insects has made them the guardian spirit of canoe makers, as their presence on a tree would indicate a large insect population and therefore its unsuitability for use as a canoe (3).

Elepaio are monogamous birds that remain together all year and often mate for life (2). Together, they maintain a territory that encompasses their nest site and food resources (6). The breeding season extends from January to June, during which clutches of one to three eggs are laid. The nest, constructed by both sexes, is a finely woven cup made of a wide variety of materials including grasses, bark strips, lichen and spider’s silk (2) (3), and placed in a fork or on a horizontal branch (7). Both the male and female incubate the eggs (for about 18 days) and feed the chicks (2). In a very good year the pair can raise two broods (6). The young remain on their parent’s territory for up to ten months, which gives them the opportunity to develop vital foraging skills (4). The birds is known to live for at least 12 years (2).


Elepaio range

The elepaio is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Subspecies S. c. sclateri occurs only on Kauai Island, S. c. ibidis is found on Oahu Island, and the remaining three subspecies all occur on Hawaii Island; S. c. sandwichensis in the drier areas of the west and south, S. c. bryani on the high dry slopes of the Mauna Kea, and S. c. ridgwayi is found in eastern Hawaii on wet slopes in the Hilo District (2).


Elepaio habitat

On Hawaii, the elepaio occurs in a variety of forest habitats and across a range of elevations but most frequently occurs in closed-canopy wet forest at higher elevations (2) (4). On Oahu, S. c. ibidis is most abundant in mesic forest, generally in valleys and on slopes between 200 and 800 metres. On Kauai, S. c. sclateri is most common in dense wet to mesic forest above 1,100 metres. Most subspecies can occur at lower numbers in drier woodland, savannah and scrub habitats, and in more disturbed areas at lower elevations (2) (5).


Elepaio status

The elepaio is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Elepaio threats

The birds is still fairly common on Hawaii and Kauai, but less so on Oahu (2). The Oahu subspecies was once the most common native bird on the island (8), but numbers declined drastically in the last decades of the 20th century, and it is now the most threatened subspecies. Habitat loss due to urbanization and agriculture caused range reductions in the past (2), and today the species is thought to inhabit less than four percent of its original range (8). More recent population declines are due to diseases carried by introduced mosquitoes, and nocturnal nest predation by introduced black rats (Rattus rattus) (2). It is probable that the other elepaio subspecies are also threatened by disease and nest predation, and whilst habitat loss is likely to be impacting all populations to some degree, the elepaio may be less affected by human disturbance than other Hawaiian native birds due to their generalised habitat requirements, ability to survive in disturbed forest with introduced vegetation, and flexible foraging strategies (2)


Elepaio conservation

The Oahu subspecies, C. s. ibidis, is listed as an Vulnerable species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Hawaii (9), and as a result is receiving specific conservation attention, including long term population surveys, ongoing rat control, monitoring of mosquito-borne diseases, and habitat protection (4) (7). Rat control on Oahu during 1996-2000 led to a 112 percent increase in this subspecies reproductive success (2). The other subspecies are not the focus of any conservation actions, but measures to conserve forest bird species in areas within their range, such as the Hakalau Forest wildlife Refuge in Hawaii, and the Alaka‘i Plateau in Kauai, will almost certainly benefit the birds (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
The act of searching for food.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Characterized by a moderate or well-balanced supply of moisture.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
Hoofed, grazing mammals.
Wing coverts
Small feathers that cover the bases of the large flight feathers.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2006) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 11: Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Conservationhawaii.org (June, 2007)
  4. Hawaii’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conversation Strategy, Fact Sheets (June, 2007)
  5. BirdLife International (June, 2007)
  6. van Riper, C. (1995) Ecology and breeding biology of the Hawaii elepaio, Chasiempis sandwichensis bryani. The Condor, 97: 512 - 527.
  7. Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Hawaii (June, 2007)
  8. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (June, 2007)
  9. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (November, 2012)

Image credit

Juvenile Hawai'i 'elepaio, Chasiempis sandwichensis sandwichensis, wet forest form  
Juvenile Hawai'i 'elepaio, Chasiempis sandwichensis sandwichensis, wet forest form

© Peter LaTourrette / birdphotography.com

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