Mr. Uchiyama's Big Dream

Haruo Uchiyama with several of his Honeycreeper carvings

Haruo Uchiyama has a big dream.  As a master craftsman specializing in wood carving, he is a man of  considerable talent with decades of experience, which allow him to create exquisitely life-like bird sculptures.  But it’s not just the accuracy of his pieces that make them so inspiring; it’s the thoughtful selection of his subjects and his obvious passion for endangered wildlife that make his artwork truly unique.  Currently, his attention and skill are focused on a new subject: Hawaii’s forest birds, namely the Honeycreepers.  And his big dream is to create a set of carvings depicting these amazing birds for Bishop Museum that can be shared with the people of Hawaii through our exhibits and educational programming.

It should come as no surprise that these birds captured Mr. Uchiyama’s imagination.  No other closely related group of birds exhibits anything near the diversity found amongst the 57 different species of Hawaiian Honeycreepers.  By comparison, Darwin’s finches radiated into just 14 species.  Within the Honeycreepers, one can find an example of every known songbird bill shape, and even a few shapes that have no known equivalent within the world’s 10,000 species of birds!  The Honeycreepers are an extraordinary example of adaptive radiation and a uniquely Hawaiian biological treasure.

Sadly, more than half of these birds have gone extinct since the arrival of humans, and the ones that remain are in danger of vanishing as well.  Destruction of habitat, invasive species, and introduced diseases have all contributed to their decline.  But the future is not entirely bleak; habitat rehabilitation and captive breeding programs offer hope for these critically endangered species.

Several Honeycreeper specimens from Bishop Museum’s collection arranged to illustrate the diversity in the size and shape of their bills
A Maui Parrotbill (Pseudonestor xanthophrys)

Conservation efforts aimed at saving Hawaii’s forest birds require public awareness and support, which is why Mr. Uchiyama’s carvings would be such an invaluable addition to the Museum’s educational toolkit.  Because their populations are so small and their habitat is so limited, many people will never see these birds alive in their natural setting.   Bishop Museum’s exhibits, like the recent Lele O Na Manu, which had an impressive array of mounted Honeycreepers on display, offer glimpses of these birds, but only for a limited amount of time.  The feathers on the mounted specimens are damaged when exposed to light, so the Museum must keep them safely stored in sealed cabinets most of the time in order to preserve them for future generations.

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