(CN) – The Hawaiian hawk, like most hawks, is a solitary species.
The io, as it is also known, hunts alone, resting and nesting in the verdant forests of the Big Island of Hawaii.
While most hawks are solitary, they often congregate when they migrate. A flock of hawks is called a kettle. But the io – the only hawk native to Hawaii – does not migrate, instead preferring to remain within the comfortable environs of the Big Island.
But that island was not always comfortable for the bird, as forest degradation in the early 20th century combined with illegal shootings, vehicle collisions and starvation reduced the population of the raptor to a mere couple hundred.
The precipitous decrease in population led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Hawaiian hawk as endangered in 1967.
But forest conservation efforts, combined with a decline in illegal shootings resulted in a considerable rebound in the hawk’s population over the ensuing decades.
On Tuesday, the service delisted the Hawaiian hawk, saying the population of the bird is at least 3,000.
“Our review of the status of this species shows that the range-wide population estimates have been stable for at least 30 years and that the species is not currently, nor is likely to become again, an endangered species within the foreseeable future in all or a significant portion of its range,” the service said in the final rule, to be published in the federal register in the new year.
Part of the service’s rationale involved cultural conditions which make illegal hunting of the bird less likely.
“The Hawaiian hawk has retained a stable population over decades and there is much public support for protecting Hawaiian hawks for cultural reasons because it is widely recognized as an aumakua or familial guardian spirit in Hawaiian culture,” the agency said.
The Hawaiian hawk is a royal symbol in Hawaiian legend. The name io comes from its high-pitched call, but the bird is often identified by another moniker in the native language: Iolani, which means exalted bird.
Iolani is also the sobriquet of King Kamehameha IV, who ruled the Hawaiian Islands in the middle of the 19th century.
Aside from its cultural relevance, the bird enjoys the benefit of a better habitat than when it was listed in the 1960s. Logging, once rampant on the Big Island, has slowed dramatically and the commercial logging that is undertaken is done so in a manner friendly to the io and other native birds. There are several parks and federally managed lands set aside for forest and land conservation on the Big Island, making further habitat degradation unlikely according to the service.
The io prefers to nest in stands of native ohia lehua trees.
And unlike several other native species, the Hawaiian hawk is not threatened by the introduction of nonnative species like rats, mongoose and cats. In fact, the hawk has proven adaptable by eating the introduced species – expanding a diet that historically consisted of songbirds and Hawaiian crows.