A Growing ‘Alala Flock

An 'alala checks out her new neighbors.

Construction of the new `alala aviaries at the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC) was completed early this spring, thanks to the great work of our friends at Zoe Builders. (See post, New Homes for the Growing Flock).  In order to house the growing `alala flock, the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program (HEBCP) staff members are in the process of transferring juvenile and non-breeding `alala from our sister facility, the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC) on the Big Island, over to MBCC.

Prior to installing the birds into their new aviaries, we have been busy making the aviaries into suitable homes for the new residents. This has entailed mounting perches, ropes, and browse tubes, and hanging large swinging perches from the ceilings. The aviary has natural earth floors, to which we are steadily adding grass, logs, koa trees, and other native plants to simulate natural elements of their wild environment.

The four new `alala aviary buildings at MBCC.

One of the advantages of the new aviaries’ design is that they are much more efficient for daily maintenance and cleaning; this reduces the amount of time we are inside the aviaries, so the birds spend less time interacting with us and more time interacting with each other. But we are able to make close observations of the birds through windows. Catch-up cages, known as “hack-boxes,” are a new feature for MBCC aviaries, having proven a valuable component of KBCC’s aviaries. We are in the process of conditioning the `alala to feel comfortable coming into the hack-boxes by placing their daily food pans inside, but eventually we hope to be able to train the birds to enter the hack-boxes in return for a reward.

KBCC Research Associate Rachel Kingsley arrives at Kahului airport, transporting an `alala to its new home in Maui.

Transferring a large number of `alala from the Big Island to Maui is a gradual process, because the birds are such a special consignment. Hawaiian Airlines very kindly allows the birds to travel in the cabin—perhaps the only birds in the world with airline corporate membership?! We are careful to ensure that the birds’ carrier boxes are protected with mosquito netting, which eliminates the ever-present risk of avian malaria. The flight is short, but the birds occasionally vocalize during the flight, which leads to some head-turns from fellow passengers—fortunately not enough shrieking to make ourselves unpopular…yet! We are always eager to explain what precious cargo they are carrying as well give a mini-history of the HEBCP and its goals with the endangered `alala.

Once the `alala arrive at the Kahului airport on Maui, they make the 30-minute drive up the slopes of Haleakala to the MBCC facility. The selection of which birds to place next door to specific neighbors is dependent on several factors including personality, age, sex, and behavioral history toward other birds. Upon arrival in their aviary, the carrier box is positioned so that the bird has a full view of its new home, and it is then released. After it has found a favored perch on which to settle, we observe the bird to ensure that it is still healthy after the journey. The new residents are checked frequently to ensure that they are adjusting well in their new abode.

After successfully relocating five `alala to MBCC this spring, we plan to transfer more juvenile and non-breeding `alala from KBCC over the next few months. Crucially, with this year’s breeding season underway, we have hopes to fill these aviaries with another productive year of youngsters.

Sierra Browning is an intern at the Maui Bird Conservation Center. Read her previous post, Interns Birding at 10,000 Feet.

RELATED POSTS