The ‘Alalā, or Hawaiian Crow, has been extinct in the wild since 2002, preserved only at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers managed by San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program. The Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office is working with the State of Hawai‘i Dept. of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and San Diego Zoo Global to establish a self-sustaining, wild population of ‘Alalā that fulfills its’ ecological and cultural roles in the forests of Hawai‘i.
A New Approach to Recovery
In 2016, the ‘Alalā Working Group, a partnership coordinating the reintroduction, initiated a new strategy to return the birds to the forest. Biologists set out to incorporate the birdsÊ» personalities and group dynamics along with detailed habitat selection and an innovative approach to training the birds how to avoid predators.
“Recovering threatened and endangered species is bigger than any one community or agency. It takes everyone working together. Together we can ensure a healthy future for not only the birds, but the forest ecosystem as a whole.” - Michelle Bogardus, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Geographic Team Leader for Maui Nui and Hawai‘i Island.
About the ‘Alalā
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.
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:
‘Alalā were once abundant in the lower forests of the western and southern sides of the island of Hawai‘i. Hunting, disease, predation by alien 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, but since 2016 the ‘Alalā Project has been releasing captive raised birds back into the forest.