Scientists Study Vocalizations of Thriving, Wild ‘Alalā

After the release of ‘Alalā into their native Hawaiian habitat, researchers are beginning to notice increased vocalization.

‘Alalā, also known as Hawaiian Crows, had been considered Extinct-in-the-wild since 2002 with only captive populations left on Earth providing hope for the species’ survival. After decades of conservation, 11 ‘Alalā now fly free in the Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve, Hawai’i. The species, which had once been driven to near-extinction due to predation by invasive species and habitat loss, now has a small population of thriving individuals.

After the first attempt at release, during which two individuals died due to natural predation, conservationists recaptured remaining individuals and increased their predator avoidance training in captivity. The theory was that the time in captivity altered their predator avoidance capabilities. Now, with enhanced training, the ‘Alalā are thriving even with natural predators. Researchers note that in captivity ‘Alalā were also less vocal, but their return to the wild has yielded more expression. Alison Greggor, Postdoctoral Associate with San Diego Zoo Global commented:

When the only existing ‘Alalā were living in the protected aviaries at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, we saw fewer types of alarm and territory calls in the population and the frequency of alarm calls was greatly reduced.

Vocalization is thought to be an important wild behavior for the species that is necessary for survival in their native forests. Joshua Pang-Ching, Research Coordinator of the San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawai’i Endangered Bird Conservation Program explained:

We are beginning to observe behaviors that appear to be responsive to the changes and threats available in natural habitat and we are working on evaluating this scientifically to see if the birds’ rich behavioral repertoire is being recovered now that they have been reintroduced into the forest.

Conservationists are optimistic for the future of these birds as the crows continue to adapt to their surroundings, develop predator avoidance skills, and begin to forage on native plants, but this is only the beginning. These 11 individuals are just in the first phase in the recovery of the species. So far, the successes show promise for the future.

Featured photo: ‘Alalā on a branch. Credit: San Diego Zoo Global
Source: San Diego Zoo Global and the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources Press Release

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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