Published September 18, 2016 - 12:05am
Imagine pre-dawn, when the sky turns pale after a long night.
Imagine a call breaking the silence and carrying through the trees, a “cracked caw,” as one ornithologist put it years ago: a crow’s call.
Then another call. And another, as the ‘alala in the forest wake up and remind their neighbors they are still there, yes, and please don’t come near this tree, it’s mine.
You have to imagine these things because it’s been nearly 25 years since they actually happened.
Today, the only Hawaiian crows calling from trees live in conservation centers on the Big Island and Maui, not the wild.
Like so many other island birds, their numbers have been decimated from all sides: avian malaria, toxoplasmosis, introduced predators, native predators, loss of forest habitat.
There are 131 birds — 112 adults and 19 fledglings — left in the world, the result of a decades-long breeding effort that begins a new chapter in November, when a first group of young ‘alala moves into an outdoor aviary at Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve.
If all goes well, those birds will be the foundation of a new wild population.
“Everyone’s extremely excited,” said Bryce Masuda, program manager at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, a 140-acre campus on Kamehameha Schools land in Volcano. “It’s been a long time coming.”
At first, people didn’t think the ‘alala needed to be saved.