The 2004 breeding season for ‘alala is beginning to shape up as one for the record books. The best breeding season until now was seven years ago (1997) when there were nine chicks hatched and reared. Thus far this season, the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program has hatched and is now rearing nine chicks, and the season isn’t over yet. No one likes to count their chicks before they hatch, so we must show restraint and merely say, “All is looking good for a double-digit chick season, the first ever!”
In the program, there are a total of 40 adult ‘alala plus this season’s first 9 chicks. This makes a grand total of 49 ‘alala for the entire world, since the species is likely extinct in the wild. These 9 chicks represent a nearly 25 percent increase in the world population. There are 13 pairs of birds set up for breeding; of these, 11 females have laid eggs, with 8 females producing fertile eggs, showing that both the females AND males are doing their respective jobs. Three of the pairs are housed in the Maui facility and ten of the pairs are at the Keauhou facility on the Big Island.
The chicks are initially fed a diet of bee larvae, cricket innards, and hard-boiled egg. As they grow, items like mouse parts, papaya, and mealworm soft parts are added to the mix. As soon as the chicks’ eyes begin to open (at about two weeks of age) they are fed using an ‘alala puppet to help them recognize themselves as ‘alala (and not as the humans who are doing the feeding). At a little more than one month of age, the chicks will begin to spend time in an outside aviary so they can listen and watch the adult ‘alala and begin the process of learning how to become a member of their species.
Alan Lieberman is the program director for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.
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