As previously reported, the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program has achieved notable success this year, increasing the `alala flock by 11 juveniles (see post, Record Breeding Season for ‘Alala)! With all these new youngsters cavorting around, and with further growth of the flock anticipated in future years, aviary space has become hot property. Consequently, construction of brand-new `alala aviaries began in late summer at the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC). Each building will have six aviaries, and with a potential of four buildings being completed over this winter, we will increase our holding capacity significantly.
As the `alala flock has grown over the past 15 years, the majority of new aviary infrastructure has been developed at our sister facility, the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island. Following the investment in new aviaries at MBCC, we will be able to increase our holding capacity and start to balance the `alala gene pool more equally between the two facilities. The new aviaries are being built primarily to house groups of youngsters and nonbreeders, allowing us to prioritize existing aviary space for breeding pairs.
As with all our `alala aviaries, the new ones will have a double layer of mesh on walls and roof. The fine, outer mesh is mosquito proof to protect the birds from harmful malaria-carrying mosquitoes. We will have the option of separating birds into individual units or opening hatch doors to allow birds to socialize with each other throughout the entire building. This will facilitate interactions between young birds and the development of their social skills, as well as maximize foraging opportunities that will stimulate the birds mentally and physically.
While we try to distance ourselves from the impressionable `alala, it is still important that all birds are monitored closely. The new aviaries will be built with small compartments called hack-boxes, where birds can be shifted for easy catch-up, weighing, or just a closer look. These provide a valuable tool for managing the birds with little contact with people, as well as minimizing the need to capture birds with a net.
A BIG thank you to all the donors who made this project possible. Approximately one third of the funding resulted from the Zoo’s popular fund-raising event, 2010’s Rendezvous In the Zoo (R*I*T*Z). The remainder has been allocated by our program partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and State of Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife. We are tremendously grateful for all the support. We are also very grateful to Zoe Builders for all the excellent work they have been doing so far. It is very exciting to see the progress that has been made with the `alala program, and the expansion taking place is a great step forward.
Michelle Smith is a research associate at the Maui Bird Conservation Center. Read her previous post, First Hatch of Hawaiian Bird Breeding Season.