Hawaiian Coot

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Hawaiian Name: ‘alae ke‘oke‘o
Common Name: Hawaiian Coot
Scientific Name: Fulica alai

Size: 13-16 inches (30-40.6 cm); Wingspan: 23-28 inches (58-71 cm)

Habitat: Oceania; the Hawaiian Islands. On Kaua‘i, Hawaiian Coot are usually found in lowland valleys, while the O‘ahu populations are on the coastal wetlands. Maui Nui (Maui, Moloka‘i and Lana‘i) has the second largest population in the state (O‘ahu is first). They are found at the islands’ two largest wetlands: Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge and Kanaha Pond State Bird Sanctuary. The Big Island populations are found at ‘Aimakapa and ‘Opae‘ula Ponds on the Kona coast, and at Waiakea and Loko Waka Ponds in Hilo.

Its natural habitats are freshwater lakes, freshwater marshes, coastal saline lagoons, and water storage areas. Status: Endangered. Global Population: 1,500-2,000 adult individuals. The Hawaiian Coot was listed as an endangered species in 1967 under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

On Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Kaua’i, the Hawaiian Coot was previously abundant in coastal brackish and fresh-water ponds, streams, and marshes; however, the first censuses conducted in the 1950s and 1960s detected fewer than 1,000 birds statewide. Since the 1960s, the inter-annual population size has fluctuated from less than 1,000 birds to over 3,000, and appears to be gradually increasing. Biannual surveys conducted by the Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) found that between 1998 and 2003 the inter-island coot population averaged 2,100 birds, ranging between 1,500 and 3,000 birds. Recent surveys estimated winter populations fluctuating around 1,500 birds and a summer population fluctuating around 2,000 birds.

Throughout its range, wetlands have been destroyed by drainage for cultivation and developments such as hotels, housing areas, golf courses, shopping centers, landfill sites, military installations, roads and industrial sites. Some water-bodies have become overgrown by introduced plants. On O`ahu, artificial wetlands associated with sugarcane plantations have disappeared as these industries have declined on the island.

Introduced predators are an additional threat including the black rat (Rattus rattus), brown rat (Rattus norwegicus), domestic cats and dogs, Asian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) and Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) . The Asian mongoose is known to take the eggs, young birds and nesting adults of wetland bird species. Predation appears to be a serious problem on golf courses, where the Hawaiian Coot is most abundant. The species may be poisoned by insecticides and herbicides used to treat water channels on agricultural land and golf courses, as well.

Diet: Omnivorous diet consisting of seeds and leaves of aquatic plants, insects, tadpoles, and small fish. They usually dive for food but can also forage and scavenge on land.

Nesting: Sexes were alike with males being larger than females. Adult coots are dark slate gray with a white bill and a large frontal shield (patch on top of head). The frontal shield is usually white but can vary from bluish white to yellow to dark blood red. The bill has a small black stripe towards its end. They have white under-tail feathers that are seen when swimming or during their courtship displays. This coot has grayish, yellow tinged feet.

Their calls include a variety of short, harsh croaks, often given at night.

The species nests in dispersed solitary pairs, although it is largely gregarious with flocks, sometimes of several thousand individuals frequently forming during the. Adults undergo a post-breeding flightless molt period, with flocks of molting birds congregating from June-September. The species is diurnally active and roosts at sunset solitarily or in flocks.

The nest is a platform of vegetation that may be resting on the bottom of shallow water, floating or on a foundation of trampled plant matter in emergent vegetation. The species may also nest on artificial platforms, islands, rafts, tree stumps, tree forks or in bushes up to 3 m above the water. Up to 10 eggs are laid but nest predation from herons and gulls significantly reduce the amount of young who survive.

Cool Facts: The Hawaiian Coot was once a popular game bird, but water bird hunting was banned in 1939. State and Federal effort in protecting wetlands, enforcing strict hunting laws, educating, and working with private organizations and landowners, play an important role in ensuring the livelihood of the Hawaiian Coot and many other waterfowl.  

Found in Songbird Remix Waterfowl Volume 4: Geese Loons, Grebe & Coots

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