Re-Learning The Wild

Hawaiian crow in the wild in 2017 (screenshot from ‘Alala Project video (San Diego Zoo Global) shown below)

We have so many crows in Pittsburgh in the winter that it’s hard to imagine any crow becoming extinct but this species, the Hawaiian crow or ‘alala (Corvus hawaiiensis), declined rapidly in the 20th century from disease, habitat loss, and predation. They are now extinct in the wild.

Because the birds were obviously in trouble, a captive breeding program began in the 1970s but it wasn’t enough. By 2002 Earth’s only ‘alalas lived in captivity so scientists prepared carefully for their first release.

Five Hawaiian crows were released in the forest in 2016 but the attempt was unsuccessful. Three of them died, the majority killed by the i’o, the native Hawaiian hawk. The remaining two were brought back into captivity.

The ‘Alala Project revamped their strategy for the next release. The crows had lived in safety for generations and apparently didn’t realize the hawk was so dangerous, or they didn’t warn each other.

Since crows are safer when they stick together the team assessed each crow for its compatibility and hierarchy and chose the group accordingly. They also taught the crows to recognize and raise the alarm when they heard or saw a Hawaiian hawk. The alarm call is important.

A study of Hawaiian crow vocalizations published in January 2017 found that the language of the captive population contained fewer alarm and territory calls and the frequency of alarm calls was greatly reduced. This had to change in the wild.

Eleven birds spent nine months preparing for their release (read more in this Audubon article). Six were released in September 2017, five more at a nearby location in October 2017. They were monitored daily during their first year in the forest.

So far so good. As of fall 2018 they are thriving and they are vocal. Here’s a video from the ‘Alala Project taken during ongoing tracking of the birds and their sounds.

These Hawaiian crows have re-learned the wild. There’s hope they’ll be the start of a future ‘alala population on the islands.

For more information, see this 10-minute video about the ‘Alala Project or this 6-minute video about their release in 2017.

(screenshot from video by San Diego Zoo Global about the ‘Alala Project)

Tour Day 10, Fly to Honolulu. Begin the journey home

1 thought on “Re-Learning The Wild

  1. Thanks Kate, I always love a crow post! Hopefully, they will repopulate and thrive. The scale set-up was very clever, put the perch right on the scale.
    Safe travels on your way home.

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