The Hawaiian Moorhen is a dark gray bird with a black head and neck, and white feathers on their flanks and on their undertail coverts (or feathers). They have a very distinctive red frontal shield, and their bill tip is yellow with a red base. Their legs and feet are greenish and without lobes. The `Alae `ula usually measure about 13 inches (33 centimeters) in length. Both sexes are similar and have chicken-like cackles and croaks.
These birds nest year-round but the active season is usually from March through August. It is believed that the timing of nesting is related to water levels and vegetation growth. The Hawaiian Moorhen usually lays an average of 5 to 6 eggs and incubation is about 22 days. The ‘alae ‘ula eats mollusks, insects, water plants, and grasses. They are good swimmers and chicks can swim shortly after hatching.
Today, these moorhens can be found only on O`ahu, Kaua`i, and possibly on Maui and Moloka`i. The Kaua`i population is found in lowland wetlands and valleys. A sizable population is found at the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. The O`ahu population is widely spread but is mostly found between Haleiwa and Waimanalo. Six marked `Alae `ula were released on Moloka`i in 1983 but they have not been seen since 1985.
The primary cause of decline to this Hawaiian native waterbirds has been loss of wetland habitat. Other factors include introduced predators, alien plants, introduced fish, disease, hybridization, and environmental contaminants.
The Hawaiian Moorhen was listed as an endangered species in 1967 under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is finalizing the Revised Hawaiian Waterbirds Recovery Plan.