About six months after their release, researchers are finding 11 young ‘alala are coming out of their shells.
Audio recordings and observations made in the Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve show the juveniles — introduced into the forest through a captive breeding program — expanding their vocabulary and showing increased natural behaviors.
Those are good signs that they are adapting to the native forest and scientists with the ‘Alala Project say they remain cautiously optimistic about their continued success. No other ‘alala, a crow species native to Hawaii, exist in the wild.
“They are flying around the forest and becoming more proficient at being wild birds,” said Joshua Pang-Ching, a field supervisor with San Diego Zoo Global, in a taped interview released by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
San Diego Zoo, DLNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are project partners. Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Hilo are analyzing recordings of the birds’ calls.
Researchers released an earlier group of five juvenile males in December 2016, but three died within a week. The remaining two were brought back into captivity.
‘Alala also were released into the wild in the 1990s, but the species was thought to be extinct in the wild as of 2002.
Researchers say the male birds appear to be practicing their mating and territorial calls.
“When we approach breeding season, they may come more into context,” Pang-Ching said.
The natural area reserve is located near Volcano.
The birds are natural seed dispersers and their reintroduction is expected to help maintain the forest’s health.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.