Photo: ʻAlalā with a tool
ʻAlalā select tools to be able to successfully probe cavities in logs while foraging. ʻAlalā and New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides) are the only known corvids to use tools. - Photos: Ann Tanimoto Johnson/ LOHE Lab

As vigilant overseers of Hawaiʻi forests, the once abundant ʻalalā, or Hawaiian crow (Corvus hawaiiensis), were important fruit and seed dispersers of plants like hōawa, ʻieʻie, and ʻōlapa and served as a natural alarm system of nearby disturbances.

Long ago, bird collectors lamented the presence of ʻalalā as their cries would send other forest birds into hiding with a barrage of shrieks and howls.

Photo: A newly formed breeding pair of ʻalalā
A newly formed breeding pair of ʻalalā was established during the 2019 release of captive ʻalalā at Puʻu Makaʻala Forest Reserve, Hawaiʻi Island.

Oli (chant) practitioners have embodied these sounds into several well-known ʻalalā chanting styles, some notably used in love chants to arouse strong emotions in their listeners.

Today, ʻalalā are extinct in the wild and are no longer heard in the forest. However, conservationists are working hard to soon release captive-bred birds and reestablish wild populations in Hawaiʻi. ʻAlalā are more closely related to common ravens than crows and are highly intelligent. They have an extensive vocal repertoire and learn their songs socially from other individuals.