Birds of Keālia Pond
Hawaiian Coot / Fulica alai / ‘Alae ke‘oke‘o
Maui has the second largest population in the state (O‘ahu is first). They are found at the island’s largest wetlands: Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge and Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. The population of ‘alae ke‘oke‘o ranges between 1,500 and 3,000 individuals (Waterbird Recovery Plan 2005). ‘Alae ke‘oke‘o were listed on the Endangered Species Act in 1970.
‘Alae ke‘oke‘o are found in fresh and brackish-water marshes and ponds. They rarely fly, but are capable of sustained flight close to the water. ‘Alae ke‘oke‘o can be observed throughout the year even when water level is low. During breeding season (December to March) ‘alae ke‘oke‘o prefer deeper water (up to 18 inches in depth) interspersed in emergent vegetation which provides the vertical structure needed to construct nests. The vegetation also provides cover for young birds.
‘Alae ke‘oke‘o are generalist feeders, eating seeds, aquatic leaves, invertebrates (crustaceans, snails), and tadpoles.
When the ponds fill with water in the winter (typically December), ‘alae ke‘oke‘o initiate their breeding cycle with the establishment of territories. Floating nests are constructed in aquatic vegetation and three to ten white eggs are laid. Adults share responsibilities of incubation (25 days) and caring for the young. Chicks possess black down, except on the head, neck and throat, where the down is reddish-orange. For the first week, the chicks’ bald orange head is prominent.
‘Alae ke‘oke‘o are territorial during nesting and will defend their area from other coots. This aggressive behavior is evident as ‘alae ke‘oke‘o raise their tail feathers and lower their head as they head off the intruders. In heated battles, the adults will use their wings to balance them upright as they use their feet to fight off other ‘alae ke‘oke‘o – similar to kickboxing!