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Extinct & Almost Extinct: Mamo

This painting and text are from my ongoing project, Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings.

Mamo, 12" X 12", acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W. McGinnis

Mamo, 12″ X 12″, acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W. McGinnis

Mamo extinct cira 1898

A native of the island of Hawaii, the mamo was a robin-sized bird with a bill about three inches long. It used this long bill to feed on the nectar of tubular blossoms of the lobelia plant. This shy bird with a mournful whistle lived primarily in the Hawaiian forest canopy.

The brilliant yellow-orange feathers on the upper and lower sections of the tail feathers were highly prized and used for headgear and capes of the royalty of the island. It is said that one cape, created over the reigns of eight monarchs took the feathers of 80,000 mamo. The birds were captured using tree sap mixed with breadfruit to form sticky paste placed on the branches near the lobelia blossoms. It is said that the kings issued an edict that forbade the killing of the mamo. After being plucked of their yellow feathers the birds were to be released. How strictly this edict was followed and how many of the plucked birds survived is unknown.

However, it was the arrival of Westerners that sealed the mamos’ fate. The destruction of their habitat for agriculture use and the extensive hunting of the birds for collectors led to their demise. The last bird was sighted in 1898 by a hunter who shot and wounded the bird but it escaped into the forest.

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