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Hawaiian Moorhen

Gallinula chloropus sandvicensis / ‘Alae ‘ula
moorhen

The ‘alae ‘ula is a dark gray bird with a black head and neck, and white feathers on their flanks and on their undertail coverts (or feathers). They have a very distinctive red frontal shield, and their bill tip is yellow with a red base. Their legs and feet are greenish and without lobes. Both sexes are similar and have chicken-like cackles and croaks. The ‘alae ‘ula is known as the most secretive native waterbird. In Hawaiian legend, these birds were thought to have brought fire from the gods to the Hawaiian people.

No historical population estimates are available for the endemic ‘alae ‘ula. Because they are such secretive birds, it is difficult to conduct surveys of this species. It is believed that they were common on the main Hawaiian islands in the 1800s but radically declined by the mid-1900s. Surveys in the 1950s and 1960s estimated no more than 57 individuals. However, the spread of aquaculture in the 1970s and 1980s helped boost their numbers by providing more suitable habitat for these birds, Today, ‘alae ‘ula can be found only on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, and possibly on Maui and Moloka‘i. The Kaua‘i population is found in lowland wetlands and valleys such as Hulē‘ia.

A sizable population is found at Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. The primary cause of decline to this Hawaiian native waterbird has been loss of wetland habitat. Other factors include introduced predators, alien plants, introduced fish, disease, hybridization, and environmental contaminants.

These secretive birds can be found in freshwater marshes, taro patches, irrigation ditches, reservoirs, and wet pastures. They favor dense emergent vegetation near open water, floating or barely emergent mats of vegetation, and water depths of less than 3 feet (1 meter).

‘Alae ‘ula nest year-round but the active season is usually from March through August. It is believed that the timing of nesting is related to water levels and vegetation growth. The ‘alae ‘ula usually lays an average of 5 to 6 eggs and incubation is about 22 days. They are good swimmers and chicks can swim shortly after hatching.

Facts About Hawaiian Moorhen

Diet
Mollusks, insects, water plants, and grasses
Life Span
There is no information on the lifespan or survivorship; however, a banded common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) was recaptured at an age of approximately 10.5 years 
Size
Length: 38 cm (15 in); wingspan: 53.34 cm (21 in)
Page Photo Credits — © Hob Osterlund
Last Updated: Sep 03, 2013
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