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Native Hawaiian bird call appears to have changed in captivity

  • COURTESY SAN DIEGO ZOO

    A nearly extinct Hawaiian crow, or alala, at the San Diego Zoo. Researchers studying Hawaii’s last remaining native crow species say its call has changed since being in captivity.

HILO » Researchers studying Hawaii’s last remaining native crow species say the call of the alala has changed since being in captivity.

Ann Tanimoto, who graduated from the University of Hawaii at Hilo in 2014, spent months studying alalas that have been held in an aviary. She found that wild alalas have higher call rates and produce more alarm and territorial calls than their captive counterparts, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

“We think this is because they need to communicate back and forth with each other (in the wild),” Tanimoto said.

Tanimoto’s research was part of the UH Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science Program’s multi-year project on climate change, which has been awarded $1 million annually since at least 2009. The grant has been provided by the Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology program at the National Science Foundation.

The money has helped fund other projects similar to Tanimoto’s, according to a UH-Hilo news release. Some students have focused on the “anthropogenic change and population decline on social behavior in animals,” while others have examined functions of symbiotic organisms in Hawaiian plants and animals.

About eight students have participated in the research each year, according to biology professor Patrick Hart.

Angela Beck, 30, is currently studying the Hawaiian honeycreeper, another native bird. She said she is cataloging the bird’s “different songs and sounds.”

“No one has really looked at their repertoire in that much detail before,” Beck said.

The CREST grant money — awarded in five-year cycles and renewed each year — is scheduled to end in 2019. Hart said he hopes to the see the program secure long-term funding so students can continue climate change research.

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