Species Returns After Being Extinct in the Forests of Hawai‘i for Over a Decade
Five young ‘Alalā—critically endangered Hawaiian crows—were released into Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve on the Big Island of Hawai‘i on Dec, 14. The group of male birds took a few minutes to emerge from the aviary where they had been temporarily housed, and they appeared to show a natural curiosity for their surroundings.
“After being released, the ‘Alalā quickly adjusted to their new home, and began to search for and find food items in the forest,” said Bryce Masuda, conservation program manager of the Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program. “Although the birds have now been released, we will continue to monitor them and provide appropriate supplemental food, to ensure they are supported as they encounter challenges.”
The birds were moved to a flight aviary in mid-October, to allow them to acclimate to the sights and sounds of the Hawaiian forest, in preparation for their release. They were then transferred to a smaller aviary in the forest one week prior to the release, from which they were directly released. Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve is an area that conservationists have worked to preserve, protecting native plants and species, and it represents the type of habitat where ‘Alalā originally lived before their numbers began to decline.
“Decades of intensive management by the Three Mountain Alliance watershed partnership have led to the preservation of some of the most intact native-dominated wet and mesic forest on windward Hawai‘i Island, known as Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve,” said Jackie Gaudioso-Levita, project coordinator of the ‘Alalā Project.
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. With more than 100 individuals of the species now preserved at the centers, conservationists are ready to return the birds to their native forests. ‘Alalā are an important part of the life of the Hawaiian forest, as they eat and assist with the dispersal of native plant seeds. The reintroduction of this species, which has been gone from the forest for more than a decade, is expected to play an important part in the overall recovery of the ecosystem. ‘Alalā are not only ecologically significant as dispersers of Hawai’i’s native plants, but they also hold significant value in Hawaiian culture. Before the birds were released, a traditional oli, or blessing, was offered members of the ‘Alalā Project.
The mission of the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources is to enhance, protect, conserve and manage Hawaii’s unique and limited natural, cultural and historic resources, held in public trust for current and future generations of the people of Hawai’i and its visitors, in partnership with others from the public and private sectors.