‘Alala Season: Encouraging Start

Posted at 3:37 pm May 10, 2010 by Richard Switzer

‘Alala #160 hatches on May 3, 2010.

At 11 p.m. on Sunday, May 2, the first `alala (Hawaiian crow) chick of the 2010 season hatched at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center. The emergence of `Alala #159 represents the earliest captive hatch date in the history of the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program, which has been raising `alala since 1993 (see post Naming ‘Alala Chicks). Although this chick’s start in life has not been totally uneventful (it required some assistance in hatching and subsequent medication), it has since perked up and now appears to be making good progress.

There are many challenges in incubating and hatching `alala eggs: the flock suffers from a notably high incidence of embryonic death, including failure to hatch. (See post Endangered Species Propagation Challenges). As an example, the earlier egg from the same clutch developed full term, but the embryo failed to make the external pip in the shell and appears to have suffered from incorrect positioning during the hatching process.

Despite the frequent heartbreak and sleepless nights that accompany the task of propagating `alala, we have been delighted by the hatching of two additional chicks, which hatched on May 3 and May 6 respectively. Together, these three “clutchmates” bring the world population of `alala up to a total of 70 known birds.

`Alala chicks can be particularly problematic during their first few weeks of life, which we strongly suspect to be the result of inbreeding within the very shallow gene pool; some chicks hatch weak, or with what appears to be a compromised immune system or even with congenital abnormalities. Therefore, we must proceed with great caution during the hand-rearing process.

There will undoubtedly be trials and tribulations ahead, but with several fertile eggs in the incubator, and with a number of females still to lay their first clutches, these three youngsters have provided us with a great source of encouragement at this early stage of the breeding season.

Richard Switzer is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. Read his previous post, Akepa: End of an Era (But What a Life!).


‘Alala #160 hatches.

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3 Responses to “‘Alala Season: Encouraging Start”

  1. Mae was from NJ says:

    Good luck to the hatchlings and your other eggs in the incubator. I hope one day we will be able to count to three digits the number of ‘alala in the world. Thank you for your efforts on this very critical and difficult conservation and breeding program.

  2. Michael Westerfield says:

    Absolutely wonderful!

  3. Michael Westerfield says:

    Several weeks have gone by since the last blog post on the ‘alala season. I’m wondering how the hatchlings are doing and if any more eggs have produced viable young. There’s as lot of interest in the progress of the ‘alala recovery program among the visitors at crows.net and we are hoping there is more good news to report.

    Moderator’s note: There is good news indeed! We’ll have a update very soon.