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‘Alae ‘Ula

Hawaiian Gallinule

Gallinula galeata sandvicensis


The ‘alae ‘ula, also known as the Hawaiian gallinule, is a small, striking waterbird endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. It is one of 12 recognized subspecies of the common gallinule, which is found worldwide.


Adult ‘alae ‘ula are black above and dark slate blue below, with a white stripe on their flanks and a prominent red shield over their red and yellow bill. Their feet are lobed rather than webbed, and males are larger than females.

In Hawaiian mythology, a moorhen brought fire to humans, which explains the red on its forehead. The red shield is thought to protect the bird's face as it forages through dense vegetation for food.

The ‘alae ‘ula is an opportunistic feeder and its diet varies with habitat. It eats algae, grass seeds, plant material, insects, and snails. It is often seen swimming across open water, but it also uses a variety of freshwater habitats, including marshes, ponds, and streams.


Nesting habitat is restricted to areas with standing freshwater less than 24 inches deep with dense emergent vegetation. Nesting occurs year-round, but mostly between March and August. The particular species of emergent plant used for nest construction is not as important as stem density and vegetation height. Platform nests are constructed in dense vegetation over water. Five to six eggs are laid and hatch after 22 days. Although chicks are precocial and can swim shortly after hatching, they are dependent on their parents for several weeks.

The ‘alae ‘ula is an endangered species. Its population has declined due to habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change. However, there are conservation efforts underway to protect this species.

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I am an ‘alae ‘ula, a Hawaiian gallinule. I am a small, waterbird that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. My name means "burnt forehead" in Hawaiian, and it refers to my distinctive red frontal shield.


I live in freshwater and saltwater wetlands, including marshes, ponds, and streams. I am a good swimmer and diver, and I feed on aquatic plants, insects, and small fish. I am a social bird and nest in colonies. The female lays 4-8 eggs, which hatch after about 21 days. The chicks are precocial and able to swim and feed themselves soon after hatching.


I have been living in these wetlands for thousands of years. My ancestors were here when the first Hawaiians arrived, and we have been here ever since. We are an important part of the Hawaiian ecosystem, and we play a vital role in the balance of nature.


We help to control populations of insects and other pests, and we also disperse seeds. We are also a food source for other animals, such as the Hawaiian crow and the Hawaiian hawk.

However, my population is declining. Our wetland habitat is being destroyed by development, and we are being preyed upon by invasive species, such as the feral pig. Climate change is also a threat, as rising sea levels could inundate some of our wetland habitat.


I am worried about the future of my species. If we do not take action to protect our wetlands, we could become extinct. But I am hopeful. I know that there are people who are working to protect us, and I believe that we can survive if we work together.


I am proud to be an ‘alae ‘ula. I am a part of Hawaiian history, and I play an important role in the Hawaiian ecosystem. I will do everything I can to protect my home, and I will fight to ensure that my species survives for generations to come.


Conservation Status

  • Federally Listed as Endangered

  • State Listed as Endangered

  • State Recognized as Indigenous

  • NatureServe Heritage Rank G5 – Secure

  • Recovery Plan for Hawaiian Waterbirds – USFWS 2011



‘Alae ‘ula generally occurs in wetland habitats below 125 meters (410 feet) elevation on the islands of Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, although there have been reports from Ke‘anae Peninsula on Maui and from the island of Hawai‘i. On Kaua‘i, the largest populations occur in the Hanalei and Wailua river valleys, but they also occur in irrigation canals on the Mānā Plains of western Kaua‘i and in taro fields. On O‘ahu, the species is widely distributed with most birds found between Hale‘iwa and Waimanalo; small numbers occur at Pearl Harbor and the leeward coast at Lualualei Valley. Historically, ‘alae ‘ula occurred on all the Main Hawaiian Islands except for Lāna‘i and Kaho‘olawe.



‘Alae ‘ula are found in freshwater marshes, wetland agricultural areas (e.g., taro patches), reedy margins of water courses (e.g., streams, irrigation ditches), reservoirs, wet pastures, and, infrequently, brackish water habitats. Important breeding areas are found on the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge on Kaua‘i and the Kahuku and ‘Uko‘a wetlands and Waialua lotus fields on O‘ahu. Key habitat features include dense stands of robust emergent vegetation near open water, floating or barely emergent mats of vegetation, and water depths less than 1 meter (3.3 feet). Some important habitats are located in National Wildlife Refuges or on State lands and receive management attention, but others remain unprotected, such as wetlands facing development or those used for agriculture or aquaculture. Examples include Opaeka‘a marsh; Lumaha‘i wetlands on Kaua‘i; Amorient prawn farms; Lā‘ie wetlands; Uko, Punaho‘olapa, and Waihe‘e marshes; Waialua lotus fields; and Waipi‘o Peninsula ponds on O‘ahu.



Like the rest of Hawaiian native waterbirds, ‘alae ‘ula are threatened by:

  • Habitat loss. In the last 110 years, approximately 31 percent of coastal plain wetlands have been lost. A shift in wetland agriculture to other agriculture crops also has reduced the amount of wetland habitats.

  • Introduced and native predators. Dogs (Canis familiaris), rats (Rattus spp.), feral cats (Felis silvestris), the small Indian mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus), cattle egrets (Bulbulcus ibis), barn owls (Tyto alba), and bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) all potentially prey on adult or young ‘alae ‘ula.

  • Altered hydrology. Altering wetland habitats for flood control or to serve as municipal water sources makes them generally unsuitable for ‘alae ‘ula.

  • Nonnative invasive plants. Several species of invasive plants, including pickleweed (Batis maritima), water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes), and mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) reduce open water, mudflats, or shallows.

  • Avian diseases. Botulism outbreaks result in mortality. West Nile virus and avian flu may pose a risk to Hawaiian waterbirds if these diseases reach Hawai‘i.

  • Environmental contaminants. Fuel and oil spills result in toxicity and habitat degradation.

  • Climate change. Sea level rise due to climate change may result in a loss of coastal wetland habitats used by Hawaiian waterbirds.


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