I am in St. Louis attending my best friend’s daughter’s wedding, and while I am seeing family and old friends, I am also spotting wildlife that I am not used to seeing in Hawaii: Squirrels swinging from trees; a bunny shyly hopping about the yard; a robin snagging a worm from the ground; a heron pacing the air over a stream; a red-tailed hawk hovering in the sky, its tail feathers fanned. And, in the city, crows.
In their own way, they all remind me of Hawaii’s wildlife, from the mongoose to the shama thrush to the black-crowned night heron to the Hawaiian hawk and crow.
There may be 4,133 miles separating me from Hawaii, but Hawaii is never far from my mind. Especially thanks to Facebook and just, plain books.
My friend LIzabeth posted a link on her Facebook page to the San Diego Zoo blog. Yesterday’s blog post headlined with “‘Alala Population Soars Past 100
‘Alala. The Hawaiian crow. The ones I’ve seen in St. Louis are distant relatives but similar enough to remind me of the Hawaiian crows I visited last summer
at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center. This year’s breeding season put the number of Hawaiian crows alive on this planet at 102, all living in captivity. The ‘alala is considered extinct in the wild.
The first two chicks needed help with hatching this past May, something similar to what Richard Switzer called a C-section. Most likely the result of a limited gene pool, these two misshapen eggs popped out of its first-time mother looking like tiny torpedoes. That left the chicks little room to maneuver, unable to chisel their way free of their calcium enclosure with their egg tooth on the tip of their bill.
According to Switzer, though, these two are now doing well. What’s more another six followed, pipping out of their eggs completely on their own and a few more are expected to hatch this season.
Of course, all this success raises the inevitable question: When will ‘alala be released into the wild? Switzer avoids a direct answer. But when I visited the facility last year, the answer was, “A while.” The delay lies in the lack of a suitable habitat--mid- and higher-elevation dry and mesic forests with a healthy understory where the bird can take cover from its predators. The Hawaiian crow’s natural habitat has been altered unrecognizable and inhospitable by feral ungulates, logging, ranching and agricultural practices. So much so, too quickly, that they apparently couldn’t adapt.
Unlike the crows on the mainland, which seem to have adequately adapted to an urban environment. Maybe it’s because of the lack of natural predators in the city.
Here in the St. Louis area, as I do wherever my head hits the pillow, I go to bed and read. I didn’t plan it this way, but I am reading the book my visit to Kalaupapa and Kalawao
earlier this year. Reading about familiar Hawaii places, names and words keeps me close to Hawaii, even though a 10-hour, three-leg journey awaits my return.