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Moho nobilis - Hawaii O-o (RMNH 110.044)
RMNH 110.044
Moho nobilis - Hawaii O-o (RMNH 110.045)
RMNH 110.045

Meliphagidae (Honeyeaters)

Hawaii O-o Moho nobilis (Merrem, 1786)

  • RMNH 110.044: Hawaii Island, Hawaii. Cabinet Temminck, 1820.
  • RMNH 110.045: (formerly RMNH 2142): Hawaii Island, Hawaii, November 1892. Collector: Scott B. Wilson; Received: 19 April 1911.

Beautiful feathers
The cultivation of the Hawaiian Islands had a disastrous effect on the indigenous avifauna. After Europeans arrived in the archipelago, various rails, thrushes, and many of the famous Hawaiian honeycreepers vanished. Another group which suffered heavily were the O-o honeyeaters. All four species of Moho have become extinct. These are the Hawaii O-o Moho nobilis, the Molokai O-o Moho bishopi, the Oahu O-o Moho apicalis and the Kauai O-o, Moho braccatus.

Feathers of the Hawaii O-o can be found in various ethnological collections. They were used to adorn the robes of the ancient kings and princes of Hawaii. Thousands of birds have been plucked for these royal garments. After they had 'donated' their feathers, the birds were said to be released, but whether all were returned to nature is doubtful. According to Scott Burchart Wilson and Arthur Humble Evans, who compiled an extensive work on Hawaiian birdlife, O-o’s fried in their own fat were considered a delicacy.

The local feather industry probably was not the primary cause of extinction of the O-o’s. This tradition had been common practice for generations, and O-o’s still were numerous when Europeans settled on the islands. It is more likely that environmental changes, such as deforestation, caused the demise of the bird. The last reliable sighting of an Hawaii O-o dates from 1934.

Museum specimens
Skins are preserved in museums in Brussels, Tring, Paris, Stockholm, Berlin, Dresden, New York, Los Angeles and Honolulu. One of the two skins in Leiden is from the private collection of C.J. Temminck. The bird was collected at the end of the 18th or the beginning of the 19th century. The other specimen was obtained in 1892 and donated to the museum by Scott Burchart Wilson in 1911. The Kauai O-o was last seen in the Alakai Swamp in 1985. The introduction of black rats and disease-carrying mosquitoes were the probable causes for the extinction of this species. The two specimens of the Kauai O-o in Leiden were obtained by donation at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

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