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Melamprosops phaeosoma

ListedSeptember 25, 1975
DescriptionA small, chunky forest bird.
HabitatClosed-canopy, native forest of o'hia.
FoodEats terestrial invertebrates.
ReproductionNot known, but likely builds a cup-shaped nest, with both parents incubating and caring for the young.
ThreatsHabitat destruction, mortality from introduced mammalian predators, and introduced avian diseases.


Not discovered until 1973, the poo-uli, or black-faced honeycreeper, Melamprosops phaeosoma, is a chunky, short-tailed forest bird about 5.5 in (14 cm) long. It is brown above and has a prominent black face mask, a white throat, and a thick, black bill. The underparts are buff washed with brown.


Creeping along tree bark, the poo-uli forages for snails and beetles, but will feed on a variety of insects and larvae. It often forms small feeding groups with the Maui parrotbill and the Maui creeper. Nothing is known of its breeding behavior.


Poo-uli are associated with closed-canopy ohia forest with a dense shrub understory.


Past distribution of the poo-uli is largely unknown because of its recent discovery. It was found on Maui in an area of about 150 acres (60 hectares) on Haleakala volcano between the upper forks of Hanawi stream. It undoubtedly had a wider distribution in the past. Bones tentatively identified as poo-uli were found in a lava tube on the southwest slopes of Haleakala in 1982.

The poo-uli occurs only on Maui. All recent observations have been between 4,800 and 5,400 ft (1,440 and 1,620 m) elevation just east of Hanawi. The species has only been seen three times during recent bird counts, but because it is inconspicuous, it may be more common than these few sightings would indicate. In 1986 it was estimated that the poo-uli population stood at about 140 birds.


Large tracts of forest on Maui, especially on the dry leeward slopes, have been cleared for agriculture, and fire was commonly used by Polynesians to burn forest tracts to maintain pili grass used for housing thatch. European settlers eliminated all dry forest on Maui up to at least 5,000 ft (1,500 m) for ranching pastures. By the turn of the twentieth century, almost all forest except the very wet ohia forest in the windward mountain sections had been eliminated.

Degradation of remaining forests continues. Browsing and rooting feral goats, pigs, and axis deer trample or uproot many native plants, leaving the habitat open to invasion by non-native plants. The combined impact of feral mammals and exotic plants has changed the species composition, distribution, and densities of native plants on which forest birds depend.

Conservation and Recovery

The Recovery Plan focuses on controlling the number of feral animals and on eliminating introduced plant species.

The State Reserve system holds and actively manages about 30% of the remaining forest resources on the island. Since the poo-uli, as well as other forest birds, exists in such a small population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently testing the feasibility of captive propagation of endangered forest birds. Little is known about the ability of Hawaiian forest birds to live and breed in captivity.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Ecological Services
300 Ala Moana Boulevard, Room 3-122
P.O. Box 5088
Honolulu, Hawaii 96850-5000
Telephone: (808) 541-3441
Fax: (808) 541-3470


Berger, A. J. 1981. Hawaiian Birdlife. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.

Casey, T. L. C., and J. D. Jacobi. 1974. "A New Genus and Species of Bird from the Island of Maui (Passeriformes: Drepanididae)." B.P. Bishop Museum Occasional Papers 24 (12): 215-226.

Scott, J. M., et al. 1988. "Conservation of Hawaii's Vanishing Avifauna." Bioscience 38 (4): 238-253.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1984. "The Maui-Molokai Forest Birds Recovery Plan." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland.