Featured Creature: The ‘Alala (Hawaiian Crow)
Having spent my early childhood in Maui, Hawaiian wildlife is close to my heart.Â I’ve grown up watching resorts spring up along the coasts, foothills cleared for cineplexes, and bird song grow ever quieter.Â It is a reality which I hope never hits my current home of Zagreb, still bursting with chatter within our boreal dwellings.
The Alala, or Hawaiian Crow (Corvus hawaiiensis),Â is sadly one of the most critically endangered birds in the world. It has suffered from the same threats that have caused the endangerment or extinction of many of Hawaii’s native forest birds–habitat destruction due to logging and agriculture, severe degradation of native plant life by introduced pigs, predation by introduced rats and mongoose, and avian diseases transmitted by introduced mosquitoes.
The Hawaiian Crow previously was found in wet ‘ohi’a-koa forest, scrub, and rangelands, but the few remaining birds are now restricted to high mountain forest. The species is omnivorous, but is especially fond of the fruit of native understory plants such as ieie. Hawaiian Crow is a rather secretive species, often detected first by its strange-sounding calls, but it can sometimes be seen flying high above the forest.
Literally ‘Alala means “to cry out loud.”Â Their caw is very similar to that of continental crows. What sets the Alala apart from its Common Crow cousinÂ is a dark, sooty brown color, with paler feathers in the outer wing.
The breeding season of Hawaiian Crow stretches from March to July. The female lays one to five eggs, but with larger clutches, only two eggs survive. Hawaiian Crows are social birds with family groups, and these family groups remain together until young birds are old enough to feed themselves.
Hawaiian Crow was listed as a federally endangered species under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967. In 1989, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published the ‘Alala Recovery Plan. The goal of the plan was to increase the number of Hawaiian Crows in the wild to 400 individuals, thereby removing the bird from the endangered species list. The Zoological Society of San Diego runs a captive breeding program in Maui now, which has allowed 27 young crows to be introduced into the wild since 1993. Unfortunately, by October 1999, 21 of these captive-reared birds had died or disappeared due to disease, predation by Hawaiian Hawks, and other factors; the other six birds were brought back into captivity until more successful introductions can take place. To help protect existing Hawaiian Crow habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service acquired 5,300 acres of land in 1997 and established the Kona Forest Unit of the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.They have since published a new plan under the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office which begs community involvement to make this run a success.
What Can You Do?
The Endangered Species Act has helped protect the Hawaiian Crow and made it possible to learn critical information about its biology. Audubon continues to work to ensure that this vital legislation is being used to protect our publicly-owned wildlife resources. Check out http://www.audubon.org/campaign/ to learn of the latest news about the Endangered Species Act and how you can help. To learn more about other species protected under this legislation, visit: http://endangered.fws.gov/
U.S. National Wildlife Refuges provide essential habitat for the Hawaiian Crow, and a great number of other species throughout the U.S. and its territories. Unfortunately, the refuge system is often under-funded during the U.S. government’s budgeting process. To learn more about how you can help gain much needed funding for U.S. National Wildlife Refuges, visit: http://www.audubon.org/campaign/refuge_report/
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2002). Threatened and Endangered Animals of the Hawaiian Islands.
- BirdLife International (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
- BirdLife International (2006) Species factsheet: Corvus hawaiiensis, Hawaiian Crow
- Goodwin, Derek, Crows of the World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976.
- Pratt, H.D., P. L. Bruner, and D. G. Berrett. The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.