Looking out towards the future: a perspective from the release aviary

What does release day feel like? The doors open and we wait.

This is the moment we, and our many partners, have been working towards for months. It is also what the ‘alalā in the release aviary have been destined for their whole lives. Beyond the doors of the aviary lies a pristine forest brimming with native fruits and Hawaiian forest birds. 

It often takes a while for the birds to pipe up the courage to venture into the unknown of the wild. So, in the meantime we wait. 

Waiting in the observation area of the release aviary allows for a moment of reflection about the tremendous potential of the birds in the aviary and those who have flown out into the wild ahead of them. 

In both 2017 and 2018, we released 10-11 birds after decades of preparations and the collective effort of many partners. Those birds have paved the way for future reintroduction efforts for the species.

‘Alalā were extinct in the wild before those cohorts of birds took flight in the forest. Together they survived a hurricane and a major volcanic eruption, explored the landscape and some in the group have shown nesting and breeding behavior; the first time for ‘alalā in the wild in over 20 years.

While the birds have made tremendous strides towards re-establishing the species, the path is, of course, not always smooth sailing. 

This summer, we lost three of the historic 2017 cohort group to natural causes. Their names were Mele, Ho‘oikaika and ‘Awa. We name the ‘alalā out of respect to them and to honor their importance to native Hawaiian culture. As the team has processed the loss, the birds’ names ensure that they will not be forgotten. We will continue to carry the memory of these individuals with us as we forge on to fight against the extinction of these amazing birds. 

Many members of the 2017 and 2018 cohorts are continuing to thrive in the wild. The next group of eager birds awaiting release are soon to join them. As they jump from perch to perch near the open door, calling to one another, we cannot know if they feel the anticipation that we do about the life awaiting them just outside.

However, we do know that they will be helping build a future for the species, regardless of the hurdles they face. 

But until they fly out those doors, we wait. While we wait to see what their legacy will be, we will continue to help support them the best we can along the way.