‘Elepaio

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The ʻElepaio (Chasiempis sp.) is a complex of 3 species of monarch flycatcher that is endemic to Hawaiʻi. One species inhabits the Big Island, another Oʻahu and the third Kauaʻi. Being one of the most adaptable native birds of the archipelago, no subspecies have yet become extinct, though two have become quite rare nowadays.

The ʻelepaio is the first native bird to sing in the morning and the last to stop singing at night; apart from whistled and chattering contact and alarm calls, it is probably best known for its song, from which derives the common name: a pleasant and rather loud warble which sounds like e-le-PAI-o or ele-PAI-o. It nests between January and June.

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Cultural significance

In Hawaiian tradition, the ʻelepaio was among the most celebrated of the birds.[2] It is associated with a number of significant roles in culture and mythology. Chiefly, it helped kālai waʻa (canoe-builders) to select the right koa tree to use for their waʻa (canoe). The ʻelepaio is a bold and curious little bird, and thus it was attracted to humans whom it found working in its habitat, and it quickly learned to exploit feeding opportunities created by human activity, altering its behavior accordingly [3] - which incidentally made it even more conspicuous.

For example, it followed canoe builders through dense vegetation, watching them as they searched for suitable trees. They considered it their guardian spirit, an incarnation of their patron goddess Lea, because if the bird pecked at a fallen tree, it was a sign that the tree was riddled with burrowing insects and thus not good anymore, but when the bird showed no interest in a tree, it indicated that the wood was suitable. This is the origin of the ancient Hawaiian proverb, ʻʻelepaio ʻia ka waʻa ("The canoe is marked out by the ʻelepaio").

In addition, the bird was well-liked for another reason - it was good to eat, and not subject to kapu restrictions. Due to its insectivorous habit, farmers believed the ʻelepaio to be the incarnation of Lea's sister goddess, Hina-puku-ʻai, who protected food plants and was a patron of agriculture.

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