Hawaii Public Radio: UC student films doc about endangered bird

Digital Media Collaborative student documents plight of akikiki

Hawaii Public Radio spoke to a University of Cincinnati undergraduate student about her new documentary about the efforts to save an endangered bird.

UC College of Arts and Sciences student Ella Marcil returned to her home state of Hawaii this year to document the work of conservationists who are trying to save the akikiki, a bird endemic to Kauai where Marcil grew up.

An akikiki perches on a branch.

The Kauai honeycreeper called the akikiki is believed to be extinct in the wild. Researchers are hoping a captive breeding program will save the species. Photo/Graham Talaber

Marcil, a digital media student, accompanied the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project as it scoured the top of the high-altitude Halehaha plateau more than 4,000 feet above sea level looking for the bird, a species of honeycreeper.

The little gray-and-white bird used to be a common backyard visitor across the island, Marcil said. But the introduction of avian malaria to the island began to devastate akikiki populations. Birds that lived at higher, colder elevations were safe for a while. But a warming climate on the island allowed mosquitoes to reach higher into the mountains where the malarial parasite has killed virtually every surviving bird.

"They don't have any immunity from avian malaria and drop like flies," Marcil told Hawaii Public Radio.

Marcil's film is titled “When Silence Becomes the Song,” a reference to the silence in woods that no longer have birdsong.

“You could hear the wind and nothing else. It was disheartening,” Marcil said.

Marcil returned to Kauai during a break in classes where she climbed up the Halehaha Plateau with researchers.

“The terrain is intense. You have to climb on your hands and knees to get under logs and there are sheer cliffs, so you have to make sure you don't fall,” Marcil said.

There she actually saw some of the last wild honeycreepers.

“My eyes were as big as saucers because at one point a bird was right next to me. I'm hoping I can project some of that passion and excitement onto the camera so people can get as excited as I am,” she said.

Marcil is still editing her documentary but hopes to share it at film festivals.

Listen to the Hawaii Public Radio interview.

Featured image at top: Ella Marcil is a filmmaker in UC's Digital Media program. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand

Ella Marcil is making a documentary about researchers who are trying to save a Hawaiian bird from extinction.

UC digital media student Ella Marcil is trying to raise awareness about the plight of birds threatened with extinction in her native state of Hawaii. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand

Related Stories


UC welcomes new school to College of Arts and Sciences     

September 9, 2021

The University of Cincinnati’s College of Arts and Sciences has established a School of Communication, Film and Media Studies. The new school is a compilation of the existing departments of Communication, Public Relations and Film and Media Studies and the Digital Media Collaborative.


UC students plan documentary in Eastern Europe during the war 

December 2, 2022

As global media descends on Eastern Europe to cover Russia’s war in Ukraine, two University of Cincinnati students are planning to cover the region from a different angle. Hunter Shallcross and Tanmay Srivastava, both digital media collaborative majors in the College of Arts and Sciences, have planned a trip to multiple European countries to film their own documentary, titled “The Edge of Chaos.” The trip is scheduled for May of 2023.  The pair became friends through their passion for film, and soon started partnering on projects. Last February, Shallcross and Srivastava became interested in the way culture and art are changing in countries on the edge of Europe due to the war, and decided to develop the idea into a documentary. “Everybody is flocking to Eastern Europe to document what is going on. We want it to show the artistic side,” says Shallcross. “The shots, the camera angles, and the narrative we want to tell about relationships and personal issues that go beyond war.”  They began pitching their documentary idea to various professors and making any connections they could to bring their idea to life. Last May, they even attended the Cannes Film Festival, to get some first-hand film experience, while networking with people there.