Hawaiian Crow

Corvus hawaiiensis

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • CORVIDAE
  • Crows, Ravens, Jays, Magpies
  • 22

The Hawaiian Crow, also known by its Hawaiian name 'Alala, is one of the most critically endangered birds in the world. It has suffered from the same threats that have caused the endangerment or extinction of many of Hawaii's native forest birds--habitat destruction due to logging and agriculture, severe degradation of native plant life by introduced pigs, predation by introduced rats and mongoose, and avian diseases transmitted by introduced mosquitoes. Hawaiian Crow was listed as an Endangered Species in 1967, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepared a Recovery Plan for the species in 1989, but to date, efforts to increase the wild population through the release of captive-reared birds have been unsuccessful.

Identification
This species is a typical crow--a large, dark bird with a heavy black bill. The bird's body is a dark, sooty brown, with paler feathers in the outer wing. The Hawaiian Crow is unlikely to be confused with any other bird in its limited range, except possibly the dark morph of Hawaiian Hawk. The crow can be told from dark hawks by its pointed wings and passerine body structure.

Distribution and Population Trends
This crow is endemic to the island of Hawai'i, where the last remaining wild birds were found only in the Kona Forest Unit of Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge. The small wild population decreased dramatically in the past decade, declining from 11 or 12 birds in 1992 to just two individuals as of April 2002. Now none remain in the wild.

Ecology
Hawaiian Crow previously was found in wet 'ohi'a-koa forest, scrub, and rangelands, but the few remaining birds are now restricted to high montane forest. The species is omnivorous, but is especially fond of the fruit of native understory plants such as ieie. Hawaiian Crow is a rather secretive species, often detected first by its strange-sounding calls, but it can sometimes be seen flying high above the forest.

The breeding season of Hawaiian Crow stretches from March to July. The female lays one to five eggs, but with larger clutches, only two eggs survive. Hawaiian Crows are social birds with family groups, and these family groups remain together until young birds are old enough to feed themselves.

Threats
This species is near extinction due to a variety of threats that have severely impacted most of Hawai'i's native forest birds. Feral pigs have devastated the native plant life of Hawai'i, heavily reducing the number of native fruit-producing understory plants favored by the Hawaiian Crow. Logging and agriculture have also contributed to the degradation or elimination of preferred crow habitat. This species has suffered from predation by introduced rats and mongoose, as well as by the native Hawaiian Hawk. Additional threats include avian malaria and pox transmitted by introduced mosquitoes. Finally, the collecting and illegal shooting of birds, dating from the 1800s, probably had a substantial impact on this species' decline.

Conservation
Hawaiian Crow was listed as a federally endangered species under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967. In 1989, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published the 'Alala Recovery Plan. The goal of the plan is to increase the number of Hawaiian Crows in the wild to 400 individuals, thereby removing the bird from the endangered species list. The Zoological Society of San Diego runs a captive breeding program in Maui, which has allowed 27 young crows to be introduced into the wild since 1993. Unfortunately, by October 1999, 21 of these captive-reared birds had died or disappeared, due to disease, predation by Hawaiian Hawks, and other factors; the other six birds were brought back into captivity until more successful introductions can take place. To help protect existing Hawaiian Crow habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service acquired 5,300 acres of land in 1997 and established the Kona Forest Unit of the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.

What Can You Do?

The Endangered Species Act has helped protect the Hawaiian Crow and made it possible to learn critical information about its biology. Audubon continues to work to ensure that this vital legislation is being used to protect our publicly-owned wildlife resources. Check out http://policy.audubon.org/ to learn of the latest news about the Endangered Species Act and how you can help. To learn more about other species protected under this legislation, visit: http://endangered.fws.gov/

U.S. National Wildlife Refuges provide essential habitat for the Hawaiian Crow, and a great number of other species throughout the U.S. and its territories. Unfortunately, the refuge system is often under-funded during the U.S. government's budgeting process.  To support U.S. National Wildlife Refuges, consider purchasing a duck stamp which helps to fund wetland habitats in refuges: http://www.fws.gov/duckstamps/

References
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2002). Threatened and Endangered Animals of the Hawaiian Islands. Available http://pacificislands.fws.gov/wesa/alala.html October 2002.

BirdLife International (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

BirdLife International (2006) Species factsheet: Corvus hawaiiensis, Hawaiian Crow http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=5793

Goodwin, Derek, Crows of the World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976.

Pratt, H.D., P. L. Bruner, and D. G. Berrett. The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.