I listen for its musical caw but am, alas, 'alalā-less
BY MATT JAFFE | DEC 14 2017
AFTER SEVERAL MILES OF BOOT-SUCKING MUD and tangled, moss-covered roots, I reach the end of the trail. I'm drenched with sweat and soaked from brushing against the overhanging fronds of giant hāpu'u tree ferns, heavy with raindrops from the steady drizzle in the Big Island's Pu'u Maka'ala Natural Area Reserve.
It seems like a lot of work just to see some crows. Especially when I'm not even certain that any 'alalā are in this preserve. The rare Hawaiian crow is, in fact, technically extinct in the wild.
I'm no birder—no life list or fancy scopes for me. But during annual trips to the Big Island—typically split between beach time on the sunny Kohala coast and a few days sequestered in the misty, 4,000-foot-elevation cloud forests outside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—I'd become intrigued by the birds. I first encountered them at the Volcano Art Center, a gallery for Hawaiian art in the national park. Among the koa wood bowls and fine art photos of lava flows were numerous paintings and wood-block prints of crows.
And the sound: hissing, tumbling boulders, a low moan straight from the guts of the earth.
Why? The 'alalā, I learned, is not your ordinary, french-fry-scavenging crow. Endemic to the Big Island, it's one of the world's rarest birds, the last survivor of the five species of corvids that once lived in Hawaii. Many artists portray them because of their role as spiritual guardians in Hawaiian culture.