Maui News

First Nesting of Released ʻAlalā Almost two Years Post-Release

May 27, 2019, 3:19 PM HST
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Two ‘Alalā in the Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve have reached a new milestone, one not seen in the forests of Hawaiʻi for almost 20 years- they have built a nest.

In early April, reserve team members observed two birds, Mana’olana and Manaiakalani, beginning to build a nest platform near their 2017 release site. According to the ʻAlalā Project, the female, Manaiakalani, recently began sitting behavior on this nest structure.

Biologists caution there are a lot of factors that may impact the success of this first nest. First time parents are not usually successful, and birds in the wild will typically make several attempts before they can successfully fledge their chicks.

The ʻAlalā, a native Hawaiian crow that went extinct in the wild nearly a quarter of a century ago, have been hatched and reared at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers as part of a partnership between the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, San Diego Zoo Global, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the past two years, 21 birds have been released into protected forest areas on Hawaiʻi Island.

“While it’s difficult to see exactly what’s in the nest from observations on the ground we do believe that Manaiakalani is likely sitting on eggs and we’ve observed her male partner, Mana’olana bringing her food regularly,” Dr. Alison Greggor, Postdoctoral Research Associate with San Diego Zoo Global, said. “ʻAlalā typically lay between three and five eggs and will incubate them for an average of 21 days. If these eggs hatch the chicks would be the first ʻAlalā hatched in the wild in two decades.”

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Another formed pair, Kia’ikūmokuhāli’i and Ola, have been seen placing sticks in the nook of an ʻŌhiʻa tree. While there are not enough sticks to call this structure a nesting platform yet, Dr. Greggor notes that it is very encouraging to see the beginnings of nesting behavior by at least two pairs of ʻAlalā.

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This is Kia’ikūmokuhāli’i and Olaʻs first breeding attempt. Since there are no adult ʻAlalā in the wild to learn from, the reintroduced birds have had to learn how to build nests, breed, and incubate, which are guided by instincts.

“While these are exciting and encouraging steps in the reintroduction process of ʻAlalā, the journey is far from over,” Jackie Gaudioso-Levita, the ʻAlalā Project coordinator, said. “There are many stages in the process, before the young fledge; the pair encounters natural and introduced threats, as well as environmental challenges.”

The team tries to help nesting birds as much as possible without disturbing them. Team members are currently monitoring the nest discretely from a far distance and documenting observations of Manaʻolana and Manaiakalaniʻs behaviors.

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“Hawaiian forests are family; there is a shared ancestry among the people, plants, animals, and landscapes. By returning the ʻAlalā to the wild, we are welcoming home a family member that has been away for a long time,” Rachel Kingsley, Education and Outreach Associate for The ʻAlalā Project, said. “The fact that these birds have been able to build a nest on their own shows that these birds are comfortable in the forest they live. Our family is growing.”

The outcome of this nest will help guide future reintroduction efforts for the ʻAlalā. The next release of birds is scheduled for later this year.

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