Categorized | Environment, Featured

Parent-raised rare birds are first in this century

Alala, or Hawaiian crow (Photo courtesy of David Ledig | FWS)

Alala, or Hawaiian crow (Photo courtesy of David Ledig | FWS)


Two alala (also known as Hawaiian crows) at the San Diego Zoo Global’s Keauhou Bird Conservation Center represent the first chicks of this critically endangered species to be successfully raised by a parent in more than 25 years.

Hatched April 30 and May 1 on the Big Island, the chicks have passed an important survival marker – fledging. Newly feathered and beginning to fly, the birds represent a species that is extinct in the wild and is being managed through a collaborative effort as the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program (HEBCP).

For just over six weeks, the chicks were cared for by their mother, enabling them to rapidly develop from small, naked, blind nestlings into fully-feathered youngsters, almost the size of an adult.

On June 13, both chicks took the bold step of jumping out of their nest.

“It has been nerve-racking watching these chicks on camera. We had no idea whether Po Mahina would be a good mother. Fortunately her maternal instincts kicked in straight away and we are absolutely delighted that the chicks have successfully fledged,” said Rosanna Leighton, Research Coordinator at KBCC. “We also have another female raising a chick a few weeks younger, still in the nest.”

The last alala were recorded in their Hawaiian forest natural habitat in 2002 where they were threatened by habitat destruction, introduced predators and avian disease.

The HEBCP has been working with the species in captivity since 1993, bringing the population from a low of only 20 individuals to more than 110.

Until this year artificial incubation and hand-rearing were used as a strategy to maximize breeding success.

“In the early days of the program we needed to artificially incubate and hand-rear each chick to try to ensure that every one survived,” said Richard Switzer, Associate Director of Applied Animal Ecology at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “With the population over 100 individuals we are able to take the risk of letting these birds do everything on their own.”

In addition to the successful rearing of the two youngsters, researchers are celebrating the fact that they have been able to learn more about this rare bird’s natural parenting behavior.

“By recording the behavior on camera, we have learned a great deal about a process that has never been documented before,” said Lisa Komarczyk, Senior Research Associate at KBCC. “The valuable data collected will help us to monitor and manage wild nests, perhaps even rescuing compromised chicks, which will play a vital role in the recovery of the wild population.”

The Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program is a field program of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, in partnership with the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Planning and preparation efforts are currently underway to restore alala back into its vital niche within the forest ecosystem on the Big Island.

It is hoped that the first reintroduction activities will begin in fall 2014.

The San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy is dedicated to bringing endangered species back from the brink of extinction. The Conservancy makes possible the wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) of the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, and international field programs in more than 35 countries.

The important conservation and science work of these entities is supported in part by The Foundation of the Zoological Society of San Diego.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

It is both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service.

The mission of the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife is to responsibly manage and protect watersheds, native ecosystems, and cultural resources and provide outdoor recreation and sustainable forest products opportunities, while facilitating partnerships, community involvement and education.

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One Response to “Parent-raised rare birds are first in this century”

  1. GT says:

    Get rid of the feral cats and start eradicating mongoose.


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