The coalition of conservation partners working to recover the ‘alala, also known as the Hawaiian crow, are looking to the future as they work to address recent challenges that have affected the population of the species living in the Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve on Hawaii island.
In response to recent mortalities, including predation of the birds, mostly by ‘io (Hawaiian hawk), conservationists are bringing the remaining ‘alala back from the wild into the conservation breeding program at Keauhou Bird Conservation Center. Having successfully lived in the wild for 2-3 years, these birds have knowledge about foraging, predator avoidance, and other social behaviors that could be passed on to the birds residing within the conservation breeding program and aid with future recovery efforts.
“For the last three years it has been encouraging to see the released birds transition to the wild; foraging, calling, and flying in native forests,” said Jackie Gaudioso-Levita, a biologist with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the coordinator of The ‘Alala Project. “It is important to ensure that these surviving ‘alala are able to pass on the skills they have learned in the wild to future generations of the species. While very difficult, bringing these birds back into the breeding program is an interim step to the review and adaptation of the program to recover the species,” she added.
‘Alala have been rare for much of the 20th century, with fewer than 100 birds remaining in the wild by the 1960s due to habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive mammalian predators, introduced diseases, and perhaps other unknown factors.
‘Alala became extinct in the wild in 2002, preserved only at the KBCC and Maui Bird Conservation Centers managed by San Diego Zoo Global. This conservation breeding population became the source for the reintroduction of ‘alala beginning in 2016 to restored forests in the NAR.