To the fisherman, it’s hooking a fat-bellied bass just before the sun goes down. For the bird-watcher, it’s catching a glimpse of a feathered rarity, never before seen in this locale. And for the biologists at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers, it’s the perfectly made nest, filled with four intact eggs, each fertile and developing into an `alala embryo, soon to be chicks. Such was the thrill of peeking into Ula’s nest to confirm the four eggs, each perfectly shelled and each with a nascent embryo.
After careful video monitoring of the breeding behavior of Kekoa (the male) and Ula (the female), it was determined that copulations had been successful, laying took place on schedule (one egg laid every 48 hours), incubation proceeded without mishap, and all was on course for a successful clutch. After several days of maternal incubation, the eggs were removed for artificial incubation. By removing the first clutch of four eggs, the pair is induced to lay a second clutch of eggs. This strategy is termed “double clutching” and is a common strategy used in conservation programs to maximize production of especially rare species.
With only 37 `alala remaining in the world, it is our hope to produce several clutches of eggs from Ula as well as successful clutches from the other pairs of `alala in the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. The breeding season for `alala begins in May and lasts until late July. We are hopeful to produce several `alala chicks this season to match or exceed past year’s production.
Alan Lieberman is the program director for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.
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