Avian Expert Articles

Meet Hawaii’s Crow

The world around us changes so fast. That’s an inescapable condition. Some of the more frightening aspects of change occur when creatures that are a part of our biosphere become challenged with adaptability and ecological differences. Over time, we have lost many animals and other important species because of reasons that might simply be too complex for us to properly deal with. Apart from reprehensible and immoral deliberate interaction by poachers and hunters that know better and destructive land terraforming efforts, the environment has swirled and eddied enough of its own to introduce dangerous predators into areas where they may not have existed before. Additionally, climate changes destroy previously depended on resources for birds and other animals needed for sustained existence.

Meet the Alalā, Hawaii’s Endangered Crow

One of the birds that have gone extinct in the wild is the ‘Alalā, or the Hawaiian crow. The bird had long been settled on the big island of Hawaii even before the islands were settled by human populations. Since then, the bird has adapted to the unique environs of the island. But by 2002, the final two known ‘Alalā birds in the wild were gone, victims of the overwhelming influx of humans, predators like the mongoose and tree-climbing rats, as well as a large, growing  population of feral cats, and the ever-present threat of avian disease and viruses.  The ‘Alalā had gained legalized protection by Hawaii in 1931, and were federally protected in 1967.

The ‘Alalā is a beautiful bird unique to Hawaii. In appearance, the bird is about 1.5 feet tall from bill to tail, with deep black feathers and a large bill. The ‘Alalā is known to be quite intelligent. They use tools like sticks to achieve results they cannot with their beaks, sometimes shortening them if needed. It should be clearly understood that tool use among birds is a rare trait. To the respectful people of the big island, the bird is revered.

Saving the Alalā, The Hawaiian Crow

In the ’70s, after a sharp drop in the ‘Alalā population, a collected batch of these birds were taken into captivity by the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program  in the hopes that they could be properly expanded by breeding and protected for future reintroduction into the wild. This brought into being the ‘Alalā Project, which has carefully bred and now houses and cares for over 100 of these rare birds. There are two facilities that currently breed the Hawaiian crow. They are administered by the San Diego Zoo Global. With inherent difficulties in breeding (necessity of contained breeding aviaries, mate incompatibilities, inbreeding probability, etc.), the birds are carefully and patiently dealt with to ensure successes. After their birth, the birds are properly housed in conservation centers to give them the best possible growth assistance in diet and veterinary care. They are also given extensive training in survival skills in preparation for eventual release.

The governmental agencies have worked hard on two habitats in order to help give the ‘Alalā a fighting chance to regain its rightful place in the wild. The first is Pu’u Maka’ala Natural Area Preserve. It was designed to be rich in foods desired by the ‘Alalā, and to contain a dense plant life. The area is fenced in to help prevent unwanted animals within its borders. The second choice, to be used perhaps in 10 years, is the Ka’ū Forest Preserve.

In late September of 2017, the ‘Alalā Project released six young birds into the favored habitat (four males, two females). A second group of five birds (three males, two females) were released to the habitat in mid-October. The hope is in that the first release established themselves and can “assist” the second batch.

We are ever hopeful that this long-planned and carefully maintained work finds complete success, starting a new era of self-sustaining birds. And not only for the ‘Alalā bird, but for every creature groomed for such preservation.

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