Endangered Species in the Pacific Islands
Hawaiian Crow / Corvus hawaiiensis / ‘Alalā (Cry like a child)
||The Hawaiian crow or ‘alalā is a medium-sized crow, 18 to 20 inches in length. The sexes are similar in color and size. The ‘alalā is a duller black than its North American cousins, with brown-tinged wings, and the throat feathers are stiff with hairlike webs and grayish shafts. The bill and legs are black.
|‘Alalā - Photo credit © Jack Jeffrey
Habitat & Behavior:
Endemic to the Big Island, this crow favored the upland forests between 3,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation on Hualalai and Mauna Loa. They were most often found in ‘ōhi‘a or ‘ōhi‘a-koa forests. The ‘alalā is omnivorous, preferring fruits of native trees and shrubs, but also eating insects, mice, and sometimes the nestlings of small birds.
Breeding usually occurs from March through July. The ‘alalā lays one to five greenish-blue eggs, but only two survive. The family groups stay together until the young learn to fly and eat on their own. The ‘alalā has a crow-like call: “cawk” or “ca-wak” but they also make many other sounds. Their vocalizations are more musical and varied than most other crows.
The ‘alalā’s natural predator is the ‘io (Hawaiian Hawk). Chicks are very vulnerable to tree-climbing rats, and after they leave their nests, to cats, dogs, and mongooses.
Past & Present:
Since 1973, there has been extensive research on the ‘alalā. They were once abundant in the lower forests of the western and southern sides of the island of Hawai‘i. When coffee and fruit farmers began shooting them in the 1890s, their population was already declining. By 1978, only 50 to 150 crows were believed to exist. Disease, predation by alien mammals, and loss of suitable habitat due to grazing and logging are also factors in the decline of the Hawaiian crow. The last two ‘alalā vanished from their territory in South Kona in 2002.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working in cooperation with the State of Hawai‘i Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), the Zoological Society of San Diego, U.S. Geological Survey's Biological Resources Division, and private landowners to save and restore the ‘alalā. The Zoological Society of San Diego operates captive propagation facilities at the Maui Bird Conservation Center on Maui and at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island at Volcano. From 1993-1997, 27 juvenile ‘alalā were released into the wild. However, due to a variety of factors including predation by the ‘io and disease, 21 died or disappeared, and the remaining six were taken back into captivity. In 1997, the Service acquired 5,300 acres of land in the South Kona District to establish the Kona Forest Unit of the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge unit contains a significant amount of ‘alalā habitat. Efforts are ongoing to improve habitat conditions on the refuge and to release captive-reared ‘alalā again to the wild.
The ‘alalā was listed as an endangered species in 1967 under the Federal Endangered Species Act and the revised recovery plan was published in 2009 with the goal to ultimately remove the crow from the list of Endangered and Threatened Species.
For ‘alalā voice recordings, click here.