Welina, Kōlea

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Kōlea – Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)

Photo: A spring male kōlea
A spring male kōlea gearing up for his three-day return flight north for the breeding season. – Photos: Ann Tanimoto Johnson/ LOHE Lab

In Hawaiian folklore, the migrant hero Kumukahi hailed from the distant lands of Kahiki to the easternmost reaches of Puna. A relative of Pele and brother to Pālāmoa and Kahikina-a-kalā, Kumukahi performed supernatural acts of healing for any who brought their sick to him. He could possess a haka (medium) to manifest objects, kill at will, and magically shape-shift from a human into a handsome kōlea bird.

Kōlea is also symbolized in the story of Kōleamoku, a man from ancient times who the gods empowered to be a great kahuna of medicine. Kōleamoku was eventually deified after death and is recognized as an ʻaumakua in none other than our friendly neighborhood visitor kōlea. These little powerhouses begin their non-stop journey from Alaska to Hawaiʻi in late July, with first-season juveniles arriving by mid-November. But make sure to say “a hui hou” to kōlea by April when they will depart again.

Photo: An adult kōlea
An adult kōlea cruising the shoreline alongside fellow shorebirds ʻakekeke (Arenaria interpres) and hunakai (Calidris alba).