Photo/IllutrationBird carver Haruo Uchiyama holds a wooden sculpture of the Hawaiian honeycreeper in Abiko, Chiba Prefecture. (Osamu Mikuni)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

ABIKO, Chiba Prefecture--An artisan here is carving wooden sculptures of extinct or endangered varieties of a small bird species in Hawaii, driven partly by the environmental damage caused by his compatriots half an ocean away.

The Hawaiian honeycreeper migrated from Asia to Hawaii more than 5 million years ago and evolved into 60 types. But nearly all honeycreeper varieties have died out or are now on the brink of extinction.

Haruo Uchiyama, 69, the leading artist in the field of wooden wild bird carving in Japan, learned about the plight of the honeycreeper at an international conference on seabirds held in Hawaii three years ago.

He visited the Bishop Museum in Honolulu to learn more about the endemic bird species and discovered that they are “good research material on evolution.”

The Hawaiian honeycreeper adapted to the diverse environments on Hawaii’s many islands and evolved into various shapes and forms.

They had feathers of yellow, green, black, red or other colors. Some birds developed a thin bill for sucking nectar. Other honeycreepers’ bills were shaped to easily catch bugs in trees.

An estimated 10 or so varieties currently remain in existence. Their habitats were destroyed by human development, and infectious diseases spread by alien mosquitos also reduced the birds’ numbers.

In addition, white-eye and other birds taken to Hawaii by Japanese immigrants are believed to have preyed on the Hawaiian honeycreeper.

Uchiyama said he was shocked by the Japanese involvement in the critical situation for the rare bird species.

“I never imagined such a terrible thing happened in ‘the paradise of nature,’” Uchiyama said. “The only thing I can do is preserve the forms of evolution through bird carving.”

The Bishop Museum supported his proposal to recreate the endangered species into wooden sculptures.

The museum keeps stuffed male and female specimens of 40 Hawaiian honeycreeper varieties in its repository to protect them from degradation.

Uchiyama said he will be able to create 120 male and female statues of all Hawaiian honeycreeper types by using the museum’s specimens and illustrations based on photos of the birds and fossilized body parts.

He has so far finished male statues of 20 varieties of Hawaiian honeycreeper.

Uchiyama makes the molds carved out of timber and uses silicone rubber so that people can view and touch the resin-made replicas.

He has repeatedly visited Hawaii for the project.

But the process is expensive. Creating just one Hawaiian honeycreeper replica requires 200,000 yen ($1,847), even excluding travel costs.

The Bishop Museum is soliciting donations for the project and has already raised 3 million yen.

Uchiyama is looking to raise further funds through crowdfunding.

“It is not someone else’s problem because the issue is between humankind and the environment,” Uchiyama said. “I would like people to become interested in the issue, even just a little bit.”

Uchiyama has engaged in wild bird preservation programs in Japan and abroad.

In 1991, the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology in Abiko began developing a nesting place for an endangered albatross species on Torishima island in the Izu island chain. Uchiyama created a model of the bird and offered it as a decoy for free.

The decoy lured albatrosses to the area, leading to a steadily increasing number of chicks.