Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office
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Endangered Species in the Pacific Islands

Hawaiian Coot / Fulica alai  / ‘Alae ke‘oke‘o

Photo of Hawaiian coot 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.
‘Alae ke‘oke‘o - Photo credit USFWS

Habitat & Behavior:
‘Alae ke‘oke‘o are found in fresh and brackish-water marshes and ponds. ‘Alae ke‘oke‘o 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.

The ‘alae ke‘oke‘o eats seeds and leaves of aquatic plants, insects, tadpoles, and small fish. Their calls include a variety of short, harsh croaks.

Past & Present:
There are no records of how many ‘alae ke‘oke‘o were around before the 1950s. Research in the late 1950s and to the late 1960s indicated a population of only about 1,000. This led to it being listed as an endangered species in 1970.

Between 1,000 to 2,000 ‘alae ke‘oke‘o live in all the main Hawaiian islands, except Kaho‘olawe. It is believed that the population fluctuates according to climatic and hydrological conditions. On Kaua‘i, ‘alae ke‘oke‘o are usually found in lowland valleys, while the O‘ahu populations are on the coastal wetlands. Maui Nui (Maui, Moloka‘i and Lana‘i) has the second largest population in the state (O‘ahu is first). They are found at the islands’ two largest wetlands: Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge and Kanaha Pond State Bird Sanctuary. The Big Island populations are found at ‘Aimakapa and ‘Opae‘ula Ponds on the Kona coast, and at Waiakea and Loko Waka Ponds in Hilo.

The primary causes of the decline of this Hawaiian native waterbird has been the loss and degradation of wetland habitat and introduced predators (e.g., rats, dogs, cats, mongoose). Other factors include alien plants, introduced fish, bull frogs, disease, and sometimes environmental contaminants.

Conservation Efforts:
The ‘alae ke‘oke‘o was once a popular game bird, but waterbird hunting was banned in 1939. State and Federal effort in protecting wetlands, enforcing strict hunting laws, educating, and working with private organizations and landowners, play an important role in ensuring the livelihood of the ‘alae ke‘oke‘o and many other waterbirds.

The ‘alae ke‘oke‘o was listed as an endangered species in 1967 under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The Hawaiian Waterbirds Recovery plan was completed in 1978, revised in 1985, and is currently being revised and updated again.

Last updated: June 13, 2013
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