Fun Hawaiian Gallinule Facts For Kids

Joan Agie
Nov 14, 2022 By Joan Agie
Originally Published on Sep 02, 2021
Edited by Monisha Kochhar
Fact-checked by Kidadl Team
Hawaiian Gallinule Fact File
Age: 3-18
Read time: 6.1 Min

The Hawaiian gallinule (Gallinula galeata sandvicensis) is a chicken-like blackbird endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. It is known by many other names, such as the Hawaiian common gallinule, Hawaiian moorhen, Hawaiian common moorhen, and as 'alae ula' in the local language, which translates as 'burnt forehead' because of its large red frontal shield. These birds got this name from an old Hawaiian legend, according to which, this bird stole fire from the gods to help humanity and got its white forehead burnt to a bright red in the process. This gallinule is one of the seven subspecies of the common gallinule, which is found all over the world. The population of this bird has needed serious protection after declining to less than 60 birds in the 1960s, and though their numbers have increased since, there is still a wide variety of threats to its habitat. Therefore, it has been categorized as Endangered under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species Act and by the State of Hawaii, and many conservation actions have been taken to protect this species.

If you want to learn more about other birds, check out our Anna's hummingbird fun facts and toucan bird fun facts pages.

Hawaiian Gallinule Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Hawaiian gallinule?

The Hawaiian gallinule is a type of bird.

What class of animal does a Hawaiian gallinule belong to?

The 'alae ula' belongs to the class Aves and the family Rallidae.

How many Hawaiian gallinules are there in the world?

The total population of this species across its range is estimated to be less than 1,000 individuals.

Where does a Hawaiian gallinule live?

The Hawaiian gallinules are endemic to the Hawaiian islands of Kaua‘i and O'ahu. These birds were formerly found throughout Hawaii but due to the degradation of their habitat and excessive hunting, they are now mainly found only in the wetlands of the islands which have dense vegetation, including the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge and several other sites under the National Wildlife Refuge System in the state. There have been many attempts to reintroduce them to other islands as well but they have all been unsuccessful due to various reasons.

What is a Hawaiian gallinule's habitat?

These birds mainly prefer freshwater wetlands such as ponds, streams, reservoirs, and marshes. It requires a habitat covered with dense vegetation to hide in and use for its nests. It will usually stay in the vegetation and only occasionally go into the shallow water.

Who do Hawaiian gallinules live with?

The Hawaiian common gallinule is known to be territorial when nesting. After their chicks are 21-25 days old, pairs have been seen driving their chicks away from their territory.

How long does a Hawaiian gallinule live?

Though the lifespan of the 'alae 'ula is not known, some specimens of the common gallinule were found to live up to 10 years.

How do they reproduce?

This species of bird does not have a particular breeding season, but there is a peak in nesting in the months of March to August. The nests, usually containing four to eight eggs, are made by the female bird from aquatic vegetation like twigs, leaves, and stems that the male bird finds. Both the male and female birds incubate the eggs and feed the chicks for a few weeks. The adults are known to dispose of the eggshells by eating them or taking them far away from their nesting site.

What is their conservation status?

The 'alae 'ula is classified as Endangered under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species Act and included in six National Wildlife Refuge systems across Hawaii because of its degrading habitat due to climate change and human development, as well as the increasing numbers of the predators of this species in its range.

Hawaiian Gallinule Fun Facts

What do Hawaiian gallinules look like?

The Hawaiian moorhen has black plumage on its neck and head, with white feathers on its flanks. Its upper parts are dark brown in color while the underparts are blue-gray. The undertail coverts of this species are stark white, and it has a large frontal shield that is bright red, which is situated over a bill that is tipped with yellow. The frontal shield, believed by some people to have turned red by carrying fire to human beings, might be useful in protecting the moorhen's face when foraging for food in the dense vegetation. The common gallinule and some of its subspecies, including the Hawaiian moorhen, have a red tinge on the top of their yellow-green legs and unwebbed feet.

Hawaiian Gallinule

How cute are they?

This subspecies of the common gallinule is extremely cute and beautiful with its sleek dark gray feathers and its pronounced red frontal shield.

How do they communicate?

The bird's call of this species is supposed to be chicken-like cackles and croaks but far higher pitched. Like other birds, the Hawaiian common gallinule might make these sounds to establish its territory.

How big is a Hawaiian gallinule?

The 'alae 'ula is approximately 14 in (36 cm) long and 13 in (33 cm) tall, being almost the same height as a leghorn chicken.

How fast can a Hawaiian gallinule move?

The flying speed of the Hawaiian common gallinule is unknown. However, it was formerly considered a subspecies of the common moorhen, which is known to fly at speeds of 22 mph (35 kph).

How much does a Hawaiian gallinule weigh?

In a study conducted on these birds, an average adult 'alae 'ula was found to weigh about 12.3 oz (350 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

The male and female birds of this species do not have specific names.

What would you call a baby Hawaiian gallinule?

A baby 'alae 'ula can be called a chick when it hatches and a juvenile when it is growing into an adult bird. The chicks of this species can walk around or swim mere hours after hatching out of their eggs.

What do they eat?

The 'alae 'ula mostly feeds on various types of grasses, algae, and seeds that can be found in the thick vegetation it lives in. They also feed on invertebrates like mollusks and other aquatic insects that are found in the vegetation or the water.

They have a number of predators that are harming their population, such as cats, bullfrogs, rats, and mongooses.

Are they dangerous?

This species is not considered particularly dangerous to human beings as it will often scurry into the vegetation on seeing any sort of danger, though, in some places across their range, they have been known to even accept food from humans.

Would they make a good pet?

Their population is not known to survive anywhere other than outside their range and they are known to be afraid around human beings. So they would not be a suitable pet as they are wild animals.

Did you know...

Every year between June and September, the Hawaiian gallinule molts all its feathers and as a result, is flightless for 25 days, till it grows all the feathers back.

Hawaiian gallinule vs common gallinule

Both the common gallinule and the 'alae 'ula look almost alike, aside from some minor differences in their appearance. However, their geographical range and population are quite different. While the common gallinule is found in abundance in the U.S., the Hawaiian gallinule is considered Endangered and is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.

Comparisons with similar birds

Though it is natural that this species looks quite similar to other subspecies of the common gallinule, it also has some features in common with the Hawaiian coot. They both have dark gray plumage but the coot has a white frontal shield and gray legs instead of red.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds from our Indian peafowl facts and great frigatebird facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable purple gallinule coloring pages.

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Written by Joan Agie

Bachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

Joan Agie picture

Joan AgieBachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

With 3+ years of research and content writing experience across several niches, especially on education, technology, and business topics. Joan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Anatomy from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, and has worked as a researcher and writer for organizations across Nigeria, the US, the UK, and Germany. Joan enjoys meditation, watching movies, and learning new languages in her free time.

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