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Hawaiian Crow

Hawaiian Crow (Corvus Hawaiiensis) On a BranchHawaiian Crow (Corvus Hawaiiensis) Drawing on A Branch
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Hawaiian Crow Facts

Kingdom:
Five groups that classify all living things
Animalia
Phylum:
A group of animals within the animal kingdom
Chordata
Class:
A group of animals within a pylum
Aves
Order:
A group of animals within a class
Passeriformes
Family:
A group of animals within an order
Corvidae
Genus:
A group of animals within a family
Corvus
Scientific Name:
The name of the animal in science
Corvus Hawaiiensis
Common Name:
Most widely used name for this species
Hawaiian Crow
Other Names(s):Alala
Group:
The domestic group such as cat or dog
Birds
Location:
The place where something is found
Hawaii
Habitat:
The specific area where the animal lives
Semi-dry Forests
Color:Black and Brown
Skin Type:
The protective layer of the animal
Feathers
Size (L):
How long (L) or tall (H) the animal is
18in - 20in
Wingspan:
The measurement from one wing tip to the other
36in - 42in
Weight:
The measurement of how heavy the animal is
1lb - 1.2lbs
Diet:
What kind of foods the animal eats
Omnivore
Favorite Food:Snails, arachnids, isopods, fruits, flowers, nectar, carrion
Predators:
Other animals that hunt and eat the animal
Hawaiian Hawks, Asian Mongoose, Black Rats, Feral Cats
Group Behaviour:
How the animal behaves in a group
Flocks
Lifespan:
How long the animal lives for
18 Years In the Wild
Age of Sexual Maturity:2-3 years
Average Clutch Size:
The average number of eggs laid at once
2-5 eggs
Name of Young:Fledglings or Nestlings
Conservation Status:
The likelihood of the animal becoming extinct
Extinct In the Wild
Estimated Population:120
Biggest Threats:Predation, habitat loss, disease
Most Distinctive Feature:
Characteristics unique to this animal
Dark sheen
Fun Fact:
An exciting thing about this animal
One of the few known animals to use tools

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Hawaiian Crow

The raucous cries of the Hawaiian crow once filled the forests of Hawaii. Now the imperiled species is extinct in the wild.


Resourceful and intelligent, social and gregarious, the Hawaiian crow — also known as the Alala — is well-adapted to the hot climates of the lush Pacific island for which it’s named. With few natural threats and abundant sources of food, the species once thrived in its forest habitat. But the intrusion of outside threats in the 19th and 20th centuries brought the species to the brink of extinction. Now conservationists are attempting to coax the crow back to life.
 

3 Hawaiian Crow Facts

  • Once venerated by the native Hawaiians, the crow was thought to be an aumakua, meaning a family guardian spirit.
  • Despite the harshness of its call, the crow is considered to be a type of songbird. It is part of the same genus as crows, ravens, and rooks.
  • The word Alala in Hawaiian is associated with chants, cries, and messages.

 

Hawaiian Crow Scientific Name

Corvus hawaiiensis, which derives from the Latin words for raven, is the scientific name for the Hawaiian crow. It belongs to the family of Corvidae, which is a type of perching songbird common in nature. Members of the family include all species of crows, jays, jackdaws, magpies, ravens, rooks, and treepies.
 

Hawaiian Crow Appearance and Behavior

The Hawaiian crow shares similarities with many other species of Corvus. It features a thick bill, bristling throat feathers, black feet, and a dark brown to black sheen — though the wings are lighter in color than the rest of the body. The typical male crow is about 20 inches in length and weighs just over a pound — about the size of a book. Females tend to be slightly smaller and lighter, but otherwise sexual dimorphism in the species is limited. The Hawaiian crow is a social species that appears to gather in small, local flocks.

Once reviled as a baleful portent of future calamity (or simply dismissed as a nuisance and a pest), the crow is now known to possess a particularly rich and cunning intelligence. The crow’s remarkable mental acuity, which is a function of its relatively large brain to body size and densely packed cluster of neurons (they appear to lack the big neocortex of primates), enables them to perform all kinds of complex tasks such as puzzle solving and object manipulation. The New Caledonian crow, which inhabits a chain of small Pacific islands east of Australia, is frequently studied as an exemplar of crow intelligence. It possesses many of the features that make object manipulation possible such as a straight bill and large mobile eyes. The Hawaiian crow is similar in this respect.

According to a 2016 study, tests performed in captivity demonstrate that the Hawaiian crow possesses the ability to extract food from holes with a stick. Even young birds could perform this trick without any training or input from adults, which suggests it is completely innate. This behavior would place it in the hallowed but small company of other tool-using species. Another marker of the crow’s intelligence is its remarkable memory. It is believed that the crows have evolved the capacity to remember individuals for months or even years at a time. This helps them to distinguish friend from foe.

Since the Hawaiian crow and New Caledonian crow are somewhat distantly related, it’s been suggested that tool use is an example of convergent evolution — meaning the behavior arose independently in both species. However, tool use is so novel and rare in the animal kingdom that it’s not clear why this behavior was selected at all — or why other types of birds in similar environments have not evolved it.

Given the crow’s intelligence, it’s no surprise that the species also exhibits an immense vocal range. Their cacophonous riot of sounds, which includes screeches, howls, and burbling, conveys information to surrounding birds about the presence of nearby threats or friendly relations. Some scientists have postulated that the crow’s vocal repertoire is an example of transmissible culture that can be passed on to and modified by future generations. A 2017 study in the journal Animal Behavior found that the Hawaiian crow’s vocal patterns had changed while in captivity. Although they lost none of their vocal range, the birds appeared to be making fewer alarm and territorial calls. Another possibility, besides culture, is that the birds are simply responding to a lack of threats, and these calls will quickly reemerge in the wild.
 

Hawaiian Crow Habitat

Now extinct in the wild, the Hawaiian crow was once endemic to the semi-dry forest on the south and west slopes of the Mauna Loa and Hualalai volcanoes on the largest island of Hawaii. Residing at mid-elevation around 3,000 to 6,000 feet up, they preferred the dense understory of the ohi’a and the koa trees to avoid predators. Fossils also seem to indicate that the species once occupied the island of Maui.
 

Hawaiian Crow Diet

The omnivorous Hawaiian crow is a highly opportunistic and eclectic eater that will feed on almost anything that becomes available. Most of its diet consists of small invertebrates such as snails, arachnids, and isopods foraged from trunks, foliage, and branches.

The bird also consumes a variety of different fruits from the pilo, kolea, mamaki, and other plants. When it existed in the wild, the crow played an important role in the dispersal of seeds around its natural habitat. The seeds would pass through the bird’s digestive system and land in different locations. This would encourage and facilitate forest diversification.

Less common components of the crow’s diet include flowers, nectar, and carrion. The crow is also known to feed on the eggs and nestlings of other bird species. Evidence suggests that the crow would move seasonally around the forests with the availability of certain foods. However, the species is not migratory in nature.
 

Hawaiian Crow Predators and Threats

The crow’s oldest natural predator is the Hawaiian hawk. A native of Hawaii, this threatened species preyed almost exclusively on crows and other smaller birds before the introduction of land animals to the island. The dense understory once provided the crow with a natural refuge from the sharp-eyed hawk. However, the loss of vegetation has made the crows easier to spot in the wild.

Once settlers arrived in Hawaii, they introduced new species such as the Asian mongoose, black rats, and feral cats, which placed additional strain on the local crow populations. The young fledglings are particularly vulnerable to predation before they can learn how to fly. Climate change, disease, habitat loss, and excessive predation may all complicate efforts to restore the species to the wild.
 

Hawaiian Crow Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

The Hawaiian crow is a monogamous species that will form fiercely loyal long-term bonds with a single mate. Each year the mating season begins around March, when both the males and females will participate in nest construction. A typical clutch consists of two to five eggs, but the female must incubate them all by herself.

It can take up to 22 days for the eggs to hatch and another 40 days to fledge. This is the time it takes before the bird is sufficiently developed enough to fly. However, the young birds often still rely on their parents for at least eight months, and they may remain with the family until the next breeding system to assist with foraging and defense. Out of the original clutch of eggs, only one or two birds will likely survive.

Females become sexually mature after two years, while males may take either two or three years. Hawaiian crows tend to have a long lifespan compared to other birds. They can live around 18 years in the wild, but scientists have documented a lifespan of up to 28 years in captivity.
 

Hawaiian Crow Population

Once widespread across the island chain, the Hawaiian crow is now extinct in the wild. It is difficult to estimate exactly how many crows existed before the first wave of Polynesians arrived. Nevertheless, the bird entered a steep decline beginning in the late 19th century. By the 1990s, the total population of the Hawaiian crow fell to a low of only 20 or 30 individuals, which greatly constrained the genetic variability.

Despite several efforts to rehabilitate the species, a series of missteps and failures such as hawk predation led to setbacks in the attempts to reintroduce captive birds back into the wild. Conservationists were also hindered by the difficulties of procuring wild crows from private lands, where the birds had taken refuge. The Audubon Society actually threatened to sue the US government for its failure to protect the few remaining individuals. A more effective conservation plan was eventually implemented.

In 2002, after the last pair of Alala was officially spotted in the wild, conservationists declared the bird effectively extinct outside of captivity. The task of reviving the species fell to the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center and the Maui Bird Conservation Center, both managed by the San Diego Zoo Global Institute for Conservation Research. After some careful management, conservationists had increased the captive crow numbers to more than 100 individuals.

In 2016, the first wave of Hawaiian crows was finally released into the wild, but three of the five birds quickly died — two from hawk attacks and another from environmental stress. After adjusting their strategy, scientists released 11 and 10 birds in 2017 and 2018, respectively. To bolster the chances of success, they sought to restore part of the birds’ natural habitat and control non-native predators and other disruptive species. They were also more selective about which birds they chose to introduce into the wild.

Given that most Hawaiian crows have spent their entire lives in captivity, the birds must learn all of the wild behaviors on their own, including courtship, foraging, socialization, and breeding. Fortunately, the birds have shown some signs of adapting to their circumstances with the help of the conservationists.
 

Hawaiian Crow FAQ

 

Why did the Hawaiian crow become extinct in the wild?

Out of all crow and raven species in the world, the Hawaiian crow is the most vulnerable to extinction. Several factors have conspired to imperil the species, all of which are interconnected and mutually reinforcing.

1) Hunting is one of the most important reasons for their extirpation from the wild. Regarded as a nuisance by local fruit and coffee farmers, the species was driven to near extinction by mass shootings. Although the state of Hawaii extended legal protection to the bird in 1931, the hunting continued apace for several more decades.

2) Habitat loss perhaps was the largest factor. Because the Hawaiian crow is specifically adapted to thrive in the island’s unique ecosystem, the loss of forests to agriculture, logging, and ranching was likely catastrophic, as it was unable to adapt.

3) For millions of years, the Hawaiian crow had to deal with only a few predators in its natural habitat. But the introduction of outside species, including the previously mentioned cats and mongooses, has greatly reduced population numbers.

4) Likewise, the introduction of outside diseases such as toxoplasmosis (which is carried by cats) and possibly avian malaria has further precipitated the crow’s decline. The Hawaiian crow appears to be particularly susceptible to these diseases.
 

How did the crows reach Hawaii?

Evidence suggests that the crows first evolved in Asia and then radiated outward to the rest of the world. When it arrived on the Hawaiian islands, the crow adapted to the unique micro-climate of its new island habitat. Based on fossil evidence, at least five crow species once occupied Hawaii. The Alala is the only one to survive into recent history.

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First Published: 30th April 2020, Last Updated: 6th May 2020