Males are larger than females, and they have chicken-like cackles and croaks. The scientific name is gallinula chloropus sandvicensis, and it is also called the Hawaiian gallinule or Hawaiian Common Moorhen. The Alae ula is a subspecies of the Common gallinule found in North America and Eurasia.
While very similar to these relatives, the Hawaiian species has differentiated from its relatives, and no longer migrates. Historically, the bird was found on all the main Hawaiian Islands except for Lanai and Koho olawe. The Alae ula is now found in elevations under 400 feet on most commonly on Kauai and Oahu.
There have been reported sightings on the Ke anae peninsula on Maui, and on the Big Island. On Kauai, they are found most often in the Wailua and Hanalei river valleys, in irrigation ditches and taro fields. The birds live around fresh water ponds, marshes, reservoirs, and taro fields. Diet consists of water plants, algae, insects, snails, and grasses.
The Alae ula often makes it’s nest in shallow water. It builds platform nests on floating vegetation or flooded reeds. Breeding season is March through August, and appears to be related to water levels. The moorhen lays five or six eggs, which hatch after 22 days. Chicks are covered with black down, and have the bright red beak.
They can swim shortly after birth, but are dependent on their parents for several weeks. Immature birds are olive to grayish brown, with a yellow or brown bill. In Hawaiian Mythology, the Alae ula performed a great service to the people. In the old days the Hawaiians did not have the secret of fire to cook or warm themselves.
The Alae kea, or white beaked alae, took pity on them. He flew to the home of the gods, the volcano. There he stole a burning torch and brought it back to earth. During the flight, the bird’s white forehead was seared by the fire, and has been a bright red ever since then. From then on the bird was known as Alae ula because of the red mark from the fire. This bird was honored as an amakua, or guardian spirit of individual families. It was also considered by some to be a bad omen.
Ea O Ka Aina: Hawaiian Nature Listing
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