The ‘alae ke‘oke‘o is dark slate gray with a white bill and a large frontal shield (patch on top of head). The frontal shield is usually white but can vary from bluish white to yellow to dark blood red. They have white undertail feathers that are seen when swimming or during their courtship displays. Male and female coots look alike. This endemic bird of Hawai‘i is smaller than its mainland relatives, measuring 15 inches in length. Their calls include a variety of short, harsh croaks.
‘Alae ke‘oke‘o are found in fresh and brackish-water marshes and ponds and build floating nests in aquatic vegetation, in which four to ten eggs are laid. Adults defend their nests vigorously. Chicks have black down, except on the head, neck and throat, where the down is reddish-orange. They are able to run and swim soon after hatching but maintain contact with parents by frequent calling.
There are no records of how many coots were in Hawai‘i before the 1950s. Research in the late 1950s and to the late 1960s indicated a population of only about 1,000. This led to the ‘alae ke‘oke‘o being listed as an endangered species in 1970. The population of ‘alae ke‘oke‘o ranges between 1,500 and 3,000 individuals and live in all the main Hawaiian islands, except Kaho‘olawe. O‘ahu has the largest population in the state and Maui the second largest. It is believed that the population fluctuates according to climatic and hydrological conditions.
The primary cause of the decline of this Hawaiian native waterbird has been loss of wetland habitat. Other factors include introduced predators and alien plants, disease, hybridization, and environmental contaminants.
Seeds and leaves of aquatic plants, insects, tadpoles, and small fishHabitat Fresh and brackish-water marshes and ponds
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Chicks have black down, except on the head, neck and throat, where the down is reddish-orange. They are able to run and swim soon after hatching but maintain contact with parents by frequent calling.