In his latest submission to The Hawaii Independent, Guy Kaulukukui, senior vice president for Bio-Logical Capital, shares the evolution of his thoughts and understanding of the kōleo bird. The more he observed the annual comings and goings of the kōleo, Guy came to see the natural rhythms of nature, in which every creature plays its small role. These birds use Hawai‘i as a haven and contribute their own resources and beauty to the islands, taking only what the land can provide and giving back. From the kōleo, we can find wisdom and guidance for our own interactions with the ‘aina.
Planting seeds of prosperity, by Guy Kaulukukui
For most of my life, the word kōlea was more commonly used as a reference to foreigners who come to Hawai‘i and become prosperous, and then leave with their wealth—just as the kōlea arrives thin in the fall of each year, fattens up, and leaves. My earlier view proved to be exceptionally shortsighted—once I took the time to learn more about the kōlea, I quickly gained appreciation for this little bird’s tenacious annual migration across the pacific from Alaska to Hawai‘i.
During the last weeks of August, the kōlea begin their pilgrimage, flying non-stop across 2,500 miles of ocean until they reach Hawai‘i’s shores. Unlike other trans-oceanic migratory birds, the kōlea cannot glide. Instead, it must continuously beat its wings over the course of the two-day flight from Alaska because, unfortunately, the kōlea also cannot swim or float in the ocean.
Kōlea arrive in Hawai‘i and routinely settle back into the territory they occupied during previous visits. You may have noticed a kōlea in your own yard over the years. Would you be surprised to learn that it’s likely the exact same bird each time? During the kōlea’s stay, their color transforms from sand to a deep gold and brown with black and white trim. In the beginning of spring, they nearly double their weight as they prepare for the long flight back to Alaska. Those departing early leave around April 18, with large numbers departing around April 25 or 26. By the next week, the only kōlea you’ll see are the very few that will remain for the summer.
Today, I marvel at the kōlea as a creature with a deep understanding of the balance between nature and its place within it. Their annual migration represents ancestral knowledge that is passed on to its chicks—who fly to Hawai‘i on their own a couple weeks after the adults leave Alaska. It’s overly simple to say that the kōlea come to Hawai‘i, fatten up, and leave. That’s just one side of an elegant equation in which this bird is able to exist in two extreme locales where its presence is in harmony with the environment. After all, your yard is no worse for wear after the kōlea leaves it. And in fact, it may even have benefitted from the bird’s annual visit.
The arrival and departure of the kōlea serves as a reminder for all of us who, through dedication and tenacious effort, seek to enhance our lives through a means that is in concert with the harmony of nature. And through our projects in Hawai‘i, Bio-Logical Capital hopes to plant seeds of this kind of prosperity for our land, communities, and families so that we may enjoy and pass on a vibrant and thriving Hawai‘i to generations to come.