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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kōlea's annual Isle sojourn winding down

 •  Adoptables

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

This kōlea was spotted in Kahana Valley. Islanders hoping to check out the birds don't have too many more opportunities: Most of them will be headed back north by the end of April.

NORMAN SHAPIRO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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You probably have seen the kōlea, also known as the golden plover. This little bird was a favorite of Advertiser columnist Bob Krauss. This column is dedicated to my friend, Bob, who's probably watching the kōlea from heaven.

They are unusual-looking birds with stiltlike legs. According to Phil Bruner, a professor of biology at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and director of the Natural History Museum on the campus, males are striking, with black and white tuxedo markings, while females may be black underneath, but are mainly gold and speckled on top.

The kōlea may be small, but they are the Olympic athletes of the bird world. They travel 3,000 miles nonstop in just two days to get to their destination. Most migratory birds have to rest during their journey.

They arrive here in August and spend the winter and spring fattening up and growing breeding plumage before migrating back to the Arctic Circle in late April. It's even more amazing that they return to the same patch of territory every year.

The kōlea are classified as shorebirds. But besides the shore, they can also be found on baseball fields, school grounds, marshes, parking lots, anywhere that's flat.

These returning visitors are adored by many Island residents.

"A kōlea makes a morning stop on the rooftop across from my study where I work, and seems to keep an eye on me. They're just a reliable old friend, always a pleasure to have stop by and visit," says Jeff Link, a Waikele resident.

Why do they have to return to the north?

"When they are in the Arctic, that works in their favor. There is 24 hours of daylight, so when the eggs hatch, the chicks feed 24 hours a day. On top of that, they nest on the tundra, which has a multitude of insects. Essentially the chick is living in Foodland or Safeway and eating steak 24 hours a day. The chicks grow rapidly and achieve adult body weight in 10 days. They can be flying in 2 1/4 weeks," says Bruner.

Bruner says the kōlea is one of the few bird species that has actually thrived because of humans. While other native birds have declined over the years, the kōlea population has flourished because of the abundance of lawns, parks and golf courses, filled with yummy bugs.

Over 90 percent of the kōlea population will leave a few days before or after April 25. So please cherish these bird sightings; they'll be gone soon.

Want to learn more about the kōlea? From 7 to 8:30 p.m. on April 26, kōlea expert Wally Johnson will be giving a lecture, "Where Did the Kolea Go?," at Windward Community College, Hale 'Akoakoa, Room 105. The lecture is hosted by the Sierra Club, the Hawaii Audubon Society and Windward Community College. Everyone is welcome to learn about our feathered visitors.

Animal lover Leslie Kawamoto has been with the Advertiser for 20 years, or 140 in dog years. Check out her blog at http://HonoluluAdvertiser.com/Blogs.