Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge

A nonprofit devoted to conserving the unique flora and fauna of Hawai’i Island

Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1985 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, consists of two distinct parcels. The Hakalau Forest Unit is a 32,830 acre parcel on the windward slopes of Mauna Kea on Hawai’i Island. In 1997 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased 5,300 acres south of Kailua-Kona, on the slopes of Mauna Loa, which became the Kona Forest Unit. In 2019, an additional 10,000 acres were added to the Kona Unit through the purchase of McCandless Ranch lands that are adjacent to the original parcel, making the total acreage for the Kona Forest Unit 15,448 acres.

The higher elevation Hakalau Forest Unit contains some of the finest remaining stands of native montane rain forest in Hawai’i and habitat for 29 critically endangered species including seven birds, one insect, one mammal and 20 plants found nowhere else in the world. Currently, it is the only place in Hawai’i where native forest bird populations are stable or increasing.

The lower elevation Kona Forest Unit is predominantly ‘ōhi‘a (Metrosideros polymorpha) trees with an understory of nonnative trees and shrubs and home to a number of endangered birds, plants and one insect. This area was home to the last wild pair of ʻalalā (Corvus hawaiiensis) in 2002. The primary purpose of this unit is to protect, conserve and manage this native forest for threatened or endangered species.



2024 is the year of the ʻAkiapōlāʻau.

Endangered Hawaiian birds, including the ʻAkiapōlāʻau, have a future IF we can build the resources to assist in the critical management that must be done to restore and maintain healthy habitat in the Koa-Ohia forests of the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.

The ʻAkiapōlāʻau, endemic to the island of Hawaiʻi, is critically endangered with an estimated remaining population of fewer than 2,000 individuals. Hakalau Forest is home to an estimated 61% of the global population of ʻAkiapōlāʻau. 

Protectors of the Aina – Hakalau Forest. Photo by Dean Masutomi

This distinctive Hawaiian honeycreeper feeds primarily on native insect larvae which are found only in Koa trees. ʻAkiapōlāʻau typically feed with their mouth open, pecking with their lower stout-straight bill into the Koa bark. The ʻAkiapōlāʻau then use their long curved upper bill to reach into the pecked hole to pull out the larvae.

The Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Board established an endowment fund in 2015 with the goal of raising $3.5 million. A stable and robust endowment, managed by the Hawaii Community Foundation, is essential to provide a reliable source of funds for the foreseeable future to support the many necessary conservation activities on and around the National Wildlife Refuge.

With your help, the Endowment has just passed $1,550,000. Your gift now can help us reach this year’s goal of $1.9 million. Or we can dream of possibly reaching $2 million this year!

While ambitious, this goal is possible through the generous donations of our Friends’ membership and many other interested parties who see the value in saving endangered Hawaiian birds.

We welcome your contribution to the Endowment (you can donate anonymously if you wish). Please click on the button to access Hawai’i Community Foundation’s secure website

For more information about Hakalau Forest NWR, visit:

Protectors of the Aina – Hakalau Forest. Photo by Dean Masutomi


Planting trees for the future. Photo by Dean Masutomi

The Friends of Hakalau Forest is a group of hardworking, hands-on committed volunteers and donors who share a passion for supporting the Refuge. When you join the Friends group you become one of nature’s heroes on Hawai’i Island. Feel good about protecting our native forests, and critically endangered birds and plants.

Featured Species

I'iwi at Hakalau Forest. Photo by Dean Masutomi

The ‘i‘iwi is the most recognizable bird in the forest, with its scarlet feathers and bright red bill. It is very sensitive to avian malaria, though, and has recently been listed as threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

©Tim Burr


A stroll to the koa cabin at Hakalau Forest, photo by J. B. Friday

Help establish an endowment to permanently protect the Refuge.

The Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge sets a goal of $350,000 for the Fall 2024 Endowment Campaign.

Recent Hakalau Forest Research Papers

Forest Bird Populations at the Big Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Hawai‘i

Kendall, S.J., et al. 2024

Endemic Hawaiian forest birds have experienced dramatic population declines. The Big Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex (Refuge Complex) was established for the conservation of endangered forest birds and their habitats. Surveys have been conducted at two units of the Refuge Complex to monitor forest bird populations and their response to management actions. We analyzed survey data from 1987 to 2019 at the Hakalau Forest Unit (HFU) and from 1995 to 2019 at the Kona Forest Unit (KFU). We analyzed three strata at HFU: open-forest, closed-forest, and afforested-pasture, and two strata at KFU: upper (1,524 m elevation) and lower (1,524 m).

In all years, ‘i‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea), ‘apapane (Himatione sanguinea), and Hawai‘i ‘amakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens virens) were the most abundant species at HFU. Three endangered forest bird species, Hawai‘i ‘ākepa (Loxops coccineus), ‘alawī (Loxops mana) (also known as Hawai‘i creeper) and ‘akiapōlā‘au (Hemignathus wilsoni), had much lower densities.

The most abundant species at KFU was ‘apapane, followed by Hawai‘i ‘amakihi at much lower densities. We found a continuation of several trends observed in previous analyses at HFU up to 2012, with most species’ trends upward in afforested-pasture stratum, stable in the open-forest stratum, and downward in the closed-forest stratum. However, more species were showing downward trends in all three strata during the most recent decade.

Results were mixed at KFU, with most species’ trends downward in the upper stratum and upward in the lower stratum. Populations of endangered species were either locally extirpated at KFU or in numbers too low to reliably estimate population abundance. The Refuge Complex is important for conservation of forest birds on Hawai‘i Island.

Our results show that HFU supports the majority of three endangered forest bird species. Threats to forest birds at the Refuge Complex appear to be having a negative impact. These threats include habitat loss, disease, feral ungulates, and nonnative predators. Continuing and enhancing management actions, such as forest restoration and removal of invasive species, could help mitigate these impacts and allow the Refuge Complex to remain a key site for forest bird conservation in Hawai‘i.

For more information, please refer to the entire research article along with the following:

USGS and USFWS Joint Press Release
USGS and USFWS Story Board
The Conversation: Lt. Gov. talks broadband, early education; Native birds



Photos featured in this gallery are by our talented members. For more photos, visit the Friends of Hakalau Forest NWR Group on Flickr.