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Original Snowbirds

Janet Kuypers

I’d like to tell you a story about a bird.
It’s fair to say this is the original snowbird.

In Hawaii, the Kolea is the Pacific Golden Plover.
These foraging birds hang out in Hawaii

until it is spring, where they’ve fattened up
for their over 2,000 mile nonstop flight to Alaska.

They have no waterproofing on their feathers,
so they don’t rest, but fly for 3 days straight.

And fossils found on Oahu even reveal
that plovers have done this 120,000 years.

Because in the spring, they fly up north,
and these birds spend three months in Alaska.

They reclaim last year’s breeding grounds
and incubate eggs, hatching in 25 days.

Momma and daddy bird leave the nest
just after the last chick hatches —

and predators like foxes, Jaegers & caribou
force the chicks to leave the nest.

In barely a month the chicks can then fly,
come August, which is when the parents then leave.

Now, these adult Plovers eat like mad,
gain 50% of their body fat

so they have fuel for their 3 day flight —
over 2,000 miles — to their Hawaiian home.

Yeah, you heard me right, every spring
these Pacific Golden Plovers, after bulking up,

make a 3 day nonstop flight up north
and lose 50% of their body mass doing it.

And right after their babies are ready to fly
and they’ve bulked up enough once more

they leave their babies to fend for themselves,
‘cuz these little ones can’t make the flight:

they don’t have the bulk to make the trip
and they never even learned how to navigate.

With Alaska summers they’ll never see stars —
or a night sky at all — until they fly south.

Maybe baby Plovers use earth’s magnetic field,
‘cuz it’s a miracle when they do reach Hawaii.

But I’ve been told that when they return,
they arrive in Hawaii at the exact same spot,

year after year, for up to 20 years, and
annually are welcomed by the natives.

We think we understand the seasons.
But in Hawaii they mark the seasons

by the coming and going of the Kolea,
the Hawaiian word that mimics the sounds

of the Pacific Golden Plovers, the parents and
their babies, ‘cuz they mark the passage of time.

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