SAN DIEGO -- Two Hawaiian crows, or alala, have done something momentous in the struggle to save the critically endangered species.
They have built a nest.
Extinct in the wild for decades, the alala were raised at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers of San Diego Zoo Global, part of its Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.
In partnership with the state of Hawaii and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alala Project has released 21 birds into protected forest areas on the Big Island of Hawaii. The nesting pair live in the Puu Makaala Natural Area Reserve on the Big Island.
After all the years of work, the nest is the first tangible sign the Alala Project might be succeeding in its ultimate goal.
These birds were raised to have the skills to live in the wild. Their keepers wore costumes and hid their human features to prevent the birds from imprinting on people.
They were also taught to avoid a natural enemy, a native Hawaiian hawk called the io, by playing an alala warning cry at the same time as showing them a captive io.
But it isn't enough for the captive-raised alala to merely survive. They must also raise their own young. If they survive, they'll reconstitute a truly wild population.
A nest isn't an actual bird or even an egg, of course. But it's the necessary first step.
Researchers, who know each bird by name, saw the promising signs in early April. Two alala, Manaolana and Manaiakalani, were spotted building a nest. The female, Manaiakalani, then began what appeared to be brooding behavior, sitting on the nest.