In the history of knowledge of the bird fauna of the Hawaiian Islands in the 19th century, there were frequent cases when the just described species rapidly disappeared literally in front of scientists - within a matter of years or decades. This happened, for example, with the "honey-sucker" kyoea (Chaetoptila angustipluma), the Oakh nukupuu (Hemignathus lucidus) and the yellow-headed finch flower girl (Rhodacanthis flaviceps). In our time, the situation, alas, has not improved. The last of the discovered feathered Hawaiian endemics, first encountered in 1973 and described a year later, had a similar fate and almost disappeared in 2004. We are talking about the black-faced Hawaiian flower girl, or poleley (Melamprosops phaeosoma) - a modestly colored forest bird, the only representative of its kind in a unique isolated group of Hawaiian flower girls.
Powley was a medium-sized bird (about 14 cm long and about 26 grams in weight) with a stocky build and relatively short wings and tail. In color and proportions, she was unlike any other type of Hawaiian flower girl. Adult males were olive-brown above, grayish-white below, the plumage of the facial part of the head and throat formed a contrasting black “mask”, edged with gray above. The noticeably bent downward conical beak was lead-gray, the strong legs were brown. The females were paler and with a somewhat smaller “mask”. Young birds did not have gray on the head and the underparts were slightly darker than in adults.
Poley's anatomical feature was a powerful, spoon-shaped tongue. Probably, it served as an adaptation for extracting soft parts of terrestrial gastropods from shells, in particular from the genus of amber (Succinea). The poley song was described as a quiet, accelerating chirp, the call call was an abrupt chirp, often repeated several times.
Pawley was strongly differentiated from other Hawaiian flower girls not only in color. Both osteological and molecular comparisons showed that she was one of the earliest isolated branches of Hawaiian flower girl evolution. Although the Hawaiian archipelago is a relatively young land area, its natural history goes back at least five million years. During this period, violent tectonic and volcanic processes, along with tropical storms and climatic collisions, shaped the current appearance of Hawaii and contributed to the formation of several dozen completely unique bird species from the ancestral population of finches. Pawley witnessed the beginning of these epic events, living well into history.
The homeland of the black-faced flower girl, as is known from direct observation, was the dense rainforests of the Hanawi watershed in the eastern part of the island of Maui at an altitude of 1400–2100 m above sea level. Here birds were found mainly in hard-to-reach thickets of ochia (Metrosideros polymorpha). Most likely, these were suboptimal conditions for life: the finds of subfossil bones (not fossilized) show that in the Holocene, before the arrival of humans, the Poles also lived in drier landscapes in other parts of the island at an altitude of 300–1500 m.
Pole breeding season began in February-March. Nests of twigs and moss were built by both parents on trees; in the clutch there were one or two eggs, whitish with brownish-gray spots, which were incubated by the female. The male fed both the female during incubation and the chicks after hatching. The flower girls ate a variety of invertebrates, mainly tree snails and insect larvae, less often small fruits and berries diversified their diet.
The discovery of the polelee, so different from its close relatives the island bird, came as a complete surprise to American scientists. This bird was discovered by students at the University of Hawaii in 1973 in the Koolau Nature Reserve on the northeastern slope of the Haleakala volcano. Due to its unassuming appearance and secretive behavior, the poleley was not of interest to feather hunters and was not familiar to the aboriginal population of the archipelago. Even its Hawaiian name, which means "black face", was invented and assigned to the bird after its official discovery. Presumably, by the time of discovery, the total population of the species did not exceed two hundred individuals. Constant monitoring of the number of local birds soon showed a disappointing picture: by 1985, the population of the black-faced flower girl had declined by about 90%.
Most likely, the primary decline in the Pole population was due to the destruction by humans of the low-lying rainforests of Maui and the spread of invasive species such as rats and malaria mosquitoes. The exact reasons for the rapid extinction of birds at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries have not been established. Probably, it is associated with diseases carried by mosquitoes, as well as with the increased activity of other introduced species - cats, mongooses, pigs and large predatory snails Euglandina rosea, which have reduced the number of native mollusks of the island. By 1997, there were only two males and one female polelee - unfortunately, they lived in places very distant from each other and did not have the opportunity to meet. In 2002, the female was caught and transported to the territory of one of the males, but immediately, on the day of release, she returned back.
The captive trapping and breeding program was launched very late, when the remaining birds were at least eight years old, and was also unsuccessful. In September 2004, scientists caught a male with one eye and signs of avian malaria, but he died alone on November 26, 2004, after only two months of aviary life. In the same year, a little earlier, the last of the birds remaining in the wild was sighted for the last time. Subsequently, observations of this species ceased. For a long time, Poley was included in the IUCN Red Lists as critically endangered and probably already extinct taxon. In 2019, the bird received the official status of an extinct species. From this bird now there are only a few carcasses in museums and frozen cages in the Frozen Zoo.