The ‘alalā or Hawaiian crow (Corvus hawaiiensis) has been extinct in the wild since 2002, living only at the Keauhou (Hawaiʻi Island) and Maui Bird Conservation Centers (Maui), which are managed by San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office is working with the State of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance to support the conservation and recovery of ‘alalā, with the goal that they can return to the wild and fulfill their ecological and cultural roles in the forests of Hawai‘i.
Approaches to Recovery
In 2016, the ‘Alalā Working Group, a partnership coordinating ‘alalā reintroduction on Hawai‘i Island, initiated a new strategy to return the birds to the forest. Biologists set out to incorporate the birds’ personalities and group dynamics, along with detailed habitat selection and an innovative approach to training the birds to avoid predators.
During releases at Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve from 2016-2020 on Hawai‘i Island, some progress was made. One pair of ‘alalā nested (although no young grew to maturity) and some birds successfully avoided depredation by ‘io or Hawaiian hawk (Buteo solitarius) for more than two years. Unfortunately, the rate of ʻalalā mortalities due to ʻio accelerated in summer of 2020 and surviving birds had to be returned to human care.
Since 2021, renewed efforts to address ‘io predation on ‘alalā includes research on ‘io behavior and habitat use that will inform site selection and release strategies for future ‘alalā releases on Hawai‘i Island. While ‘io research continues on Hawai‘i Island, simultaneously the ‘Alalā Project is planning a pilot release on Maui to evaluate whether ‘alalā can survive and breed in wet forest habitat on east Maui—where ‘alalā or a similar crow species lived historically and there is no ‘alalā predation threat from ‘io (‘io are only present on Hawai‘i Island).
“Recovering threatened and endangered species is bigger than any one community or agency. Together we can ensure a healthy future for not only the birds, but the forest ecosystem as a whole.”
- Michelle Bogardus, Deputy Field Supervisor, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office
About the ‘Alalā
The ‘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 are critical parts of Hawaiian forest life. The seeds they eat and disperse help support native plant species and their reintroduction to the forest. Before ʻalalā became absent from the forest over 20 years ago, the ʻalalā played an important role in the Hawaiian forest ecosystem. The recovery of the Hawaiian forest ecosystem depends on bringing back seed dispersing species such as the ‘alalā.
The ʻalalā is the only remaining crow in Hawaiʻi and is a valuable biological and cultural resource. In Hawaiian culture, ʻalalā are regarded as ʻaumākua (family guardian) and its cry was considered a warning not to enter certain places. ʻAlalā are included in the Kumulipo, the Native Hawaiian creation chant that details the emergence of all life forms. This acknowledgement is significant as it demonstrates the familial relationships and connections that Native Hawaiians continue to have with ‘alalā to this day.
Habitat & Behavior:
Endemic to the island of Hawaiʻi, ʻalalā favored the upland forests between 3,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation on Hualālai 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 eats 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 generally only two hatchlings typically fledge. 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:
‘Alalā were once abundant in the lower forests of the western and southern sides of the island of Hawai‘i. Hunting, disease, depredation bynonnative mammals, and loss of suitable habitat were all factors in the decline of the ‘alalā. The last two wild ‘alalā vanished from their territory in South Kona in 2002. Read More!
PROPOSED ʻALALĀ RELEASE ON MAUI
The State of Hawaiʻi DLNR and the Service (Resource Agencies) jointly propose a pilot release of ʻalalā or Hawaiian Crow (Corvus hawaiiensis) to evaluate the suitability of east Maui as habitat for the ʻalalā, an ecological and culturally important species. This effort is consistent with the statutory missions and responsibilities of the DLNR and the Service.
The ʻalalā is known historically from the island of Hawai‘i and currently survives only in captivity at two conservation breeding centers, one on Hawai‘i Island and one on east Maui. There have been two attempts to release ʻalalā on Hawaiʻi Island. Both were unsuccessful, largely due to predation on released ʻalalā by ʻio or Hawaiian hawk. ‘Io inhabit Hawai‘i Island only. Sub-fossil bones of ‘alalā or a crow species very similar to ‘alalā have been found on east Maui. Montane native forest on east Maui is similar to native forest on Hawaiʻi island, except east Maui forest is generally wetter. The multi-stakeholder pilot project would allow managers to evaluate whether ʻalalā will breed in wet forest on east Maui and have better survival in habitat where ʻio are absent.
Read the Draft Environmental Assessment
Resource Agencies are preparing a joint environmental assessment (EA) to address potential impacts of the pilot release of ʻalalā on east Maui. This draft EA provides background information concerning methods for release of ‘alalā and outlines the proposed action, potential impacts, and strategies to avoid and minimize potential negative effects of the pilot release within the project area on east Maui. The proposed release would allow managers to evaluate whether ʻalalā are successful at breeding in wet forest on east Maui and have better survival in habitat absent ʻio. The proposed action fulfills the Service and DLNR mandates to promote long-term conservation and recovery of the endangered ʻalalā, an invaluable biological and cultural resource.
The draft EA evaluates Kīpahulu Forest Reserve and Koʻolau Forest Reserve as potential release sites. The National Park Service is a cooperating agency on this EA due to the proximity of the project area to Haleakalā National Park. The EA provides background information concerning ʻalalā biology and outlines the proposed action, potential impacts, and strategies to avoid and minimize potential negative effects of the proposed release of ʻalalā within the project area on Maui. The proposed project is a joint effort of the Service and DLNR and complies with each agencies’ obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapter 343, DLNR and the Service. The draft EA is available below:
Share Your Voice: Submit a Comment on the Draft Environmental Assessment
Both DLNR and the Service will post the identical version of the draft EA on their websites for public comment as part of the same NEPA process. Each member of the public who wishes to submit a comment need only submit their comment to one agency within the respective public comment period. All public comments received by DLNR will also be considered by the Service and vice versa.
DLNR public comment period 10/23/2023 – 11/22/2023:The draft EA is available at the following website: dlnr.hawaii.gov/dofaw/comment/. The website contains a form that may be used to submit comments to the Resource Agencies. Public comments may also be emailed directly to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Attn: ʻAlalā Project, 1151 Punchbowl Street, Room 325, Honolulu, HI 96813. All public comments must be submitted or postmarked by November 22, 2023.
The Service public comment period 10/30/2023 – 11/29/2023:The draft EA will be available at the following website: https://www.fws.gov/project/alala-project starting on October 30, 2023 (see above link). Public comments may be emailed directly to email@example.com or mailed to Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: ʻAlalā Project, 300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room 3-122, Honolulu, HI 96850. All public comments must be submitted or postmarked by November 29, 2023.
A public meeting will be held on November 8, 2023, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Kula Elementary School, 5000 Kula Hwy, Kula, HI 96790. Resource Agency staff and partners will be present to speak with members of the public about the project and provide technical assistance with submission of public comments.