The birds is principally found high up in the forest canopy, where it forages for invertebrates amongst twigs, crevices and, in particular, the leaf and flower buds of the ohia tree. Using its unusual, crossed bill tips, it pries open the buds, extracting caterpillars and spiders (2) (3) (4) and sweeping out nectar with the brush-like tip of its tongue (3).
The reproductive behaviour of the akepa is relatively complex, with the juvenile males engaging in pre-breeding periods of competition, lasting from October to March, for a number of years before finally breeding. Competitive activities include chases, group displays and stunning aerial “dogfights” in which rival males may soar together up to 100 metres into the air before separating. The males compete for the opportunity to form long-term breeding pairs with females possessing the brightest yellow-orange patches. These females are more likely to raise chicks successfully than duller females of the same age, but are much less abundant (3).
Nest building occurs from early March to late May, with the female locating a suitable tree cavity in which a clutch of one to three eggs is laid. During incubation, the male provides food for the female, and, once hatched, contributes to the feeding of the chicks as well. Fledging occurs from early April to late June, with the fledglings remaining with their parents until September or October, at which point they join foraging flocks (3).