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.
The ‘alae ke‘oke‘o is an endangered species endemic to the main Hawaiian Islands, except Kaho‘olawe. The State population has fluctuated between 2,000-4,000 birds with the O‘ahu population fluctuating between 500-1,000 birds. Inter-island dispersal is most likely influenced by seasonal rainfall patterns, wetland condition and food abundance.
‘Alae ke‘oke‘o builds floating nests in aquatic vegetation, in which 4-10 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.
‘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!
Seeds and leaves of aquatic plants, insects, tadpoles, and small fish
Fresh and brackish-water marshes and ponds
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In Hawaiian legend, these birds were thought to have brought fire from the gods to the Hawaiian people.