The 'Akeke'e is a small, active bird found in one of the wettest places on Earth, the mountains of Kaua'i Island in the Hawaiian Archipelago. This Hawaiian honeycreeper is easily seen in most native montane forests, and despite the ravages of 2 powerful hurricanes in the past 15 years, it remains one of the few Kaua'i endemics that has an apparently stable population in the face of troubling declines occurring in many Kaua'i forest-bird species. The 'Akeke'e is perhaps most noteworthy for having lateral asymmetry of the bill: the lower mandible is bent to one side. The 'Akeke'e uses its unusual bill to pry open leaf and flower buds to extract arthropod prey in a manner similar to that used by crossbills opening conifer cones for seeds. This bill asymmetry is shared with the only congener of this species, the 'Akepa (Loxops coccineus), and was the basis for lumping these 2 species together between 1950 and 1991, even though they differ dramatically in appearance, voice, and breeding biology.
Although relatively common, the 'Akeke'e appears always to have been confined to the mountains, and was one of the last of the historically known birds of Kaua'i Island to be collected and described by ornithologists in the late 1880s. After a brief flurry of activity lasting until the turn of the twentieth century, the 'Akeke'e, along with the other birds of Kaua'i Island, was almost entirely ignored until the late 1960s, and has yet to be the subject of a long-term study. Consequently, its biology and natural history are still little known, and birders can make valuable contributions to our knowledge of this charming species.
Estimations of population trends are complicated by the difficulty of field identification of many Kaua'i forest birds, particularly when relying on vocalizations, and the 'Akeke'e is probably overlooked by inexperienced observers.