Na Moa O Kaua’i (The Chickens of Kaua‘i)

No story of Kaua‘i would be complete without something about the “Moa”. In the earliest record for me was the original moa (chicken) which could be found in the dry forest above the Nualolo cliffs. These were shy birds, so one was lucky if you saw one. Raveling on horseback was the best way to see them. In a big crowd of people who made a lot of noise talking, laughing etc., your chances of seeing any native bird except the “elepaio” was almost a certainty nil. These birds were similar in color as the “moa” which Hawaiian people would keep around their homes. Our flock at Kalapaki was large enough to have moa for dinner almost every Sunday.

They were wiry tough birds but a ten year old with good teeth could have a great time with a drum stick. We kept the flock together with supplemental feeding of “chicken scratch” feed in an enclosed pen. On the day we wanted one for dinner, we would scatter grain in the pen and watch the birds come into the pen to eat, then, we would close the door, go in and catch the one we wanted.           

In the Kalapaki Valley, each family had their own flock, the Ah You’s, Nakano’s, Kinoshita’s, and the Rice’s. Sometimes the flocks would get mixed up but nobody seemed to mind.                         

Up at Pihanakalani, we kept a flock of pure bred Rhode Island Reds for both egg production and meat. At the Kaua‘i County Fair of 1934, Hobey Wichman won an Honorable Mention for his Rhode Island Red Pullet. For those of you that don’t know what a pullet is, she is a young female “moa”.

In those days there were prizes for flowers, vegetables, and live stock. These categories were fiercely fought battles between the ladies of the community for the first place blue ribbon. Kids like me did our own work and whatever honor we could get, we came by it honorably. Not so the “Dowagers” of the community, their yard boys did all the work and Mrs. Big got the prize.                          

In the late thirties and early forties, before December 7th 1941, the Territory of Hawai’i had a large Game Bird Hatchery at Mokapu on O‘ahu. Frank Locey was the Director. My grandfather was in the Territorial Senate and took me to see the hatchery one afternoon and we toured the establishment. I was just amazed at the birds of all colors. Two birds really impressed me one was the Bleeding Heart Dove, and the other, the Blue Pheasant.

The hatchery’s whole experience as to see which bird would make suitable game birds for hunters and which ones would survive best in Hawai’i.

Of course like all Government works, they needed money and my grandfather was the Chairman of the Senates Ways and Means Committee. All money bills went through his hands.

Along came the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Pacific war started. Shipping space was tight and no room for bird seed, so some of the birds were shipped off to the different islands. The birds were released where experts thought was the right places for them. All tree nesting birds went to Maui and the Big Island, with a few to Molokai and Lana’i. The ground nesting birds came to Kaua‘i because we had no mongoose here.

The Blue Pheasant was sent to the Big Island and Kaua‘i, and “guess what bird Kaua‘i got the most of, the New Guinea Jungle fowl” and they came here enmasse.

We got a lot at Kipu and two of us almost got shot at when we released some on the opposite side of Nawiliwili bay from the piers. We had already released quite a few in the trees of the Hule‘ia valley. Some went to Koke’e and are the result of the “moa” at the visitor’s center.

Those released thought that they had died and gone to heaven, no snakes, no mongoose, and no predatory birds except the “pueo” (owl). Naturally in good Biblical fashion, they went forth and multiplied.

In 1962 when my wife Nancy and I returned from our trip to New Zealand, Australia and Tahiti, the filming of the movie “Diamond Head” was just beginning. Our son David was given the job of seeing that the roosters were quiet when they were filming, he did such a wonderful job that the first noise that came in from the finished product was that of a rooster crowing.                                                  

Around the stables there were lots of rats and cats. They kept the moa population down to a reasonable number. A hen with more than twelve just hatched chicks, by the next morning would be down to six or seven chicks.

This one morning, three hens with twelve or more chicks just hatched and we caught them all. Before the day was over, two more broods appeared. We caught all of them and fired up a brooder pen with 100 watt globe for heat and light. I was sent to the store for a bag of “chick starter” which we put in a trough and got one chick to start eating and all the other chicks took to the food and water without any more urging. But by the end of the week we had 143 chicks in captivity which we raised off the ground and no great exercise area and grew these chicks to good broiler size.

After work one day we got them prepared to cook and divided them among my grandfathers “ranch ohana”.

I left the ranch in November 1962 and we never did this again.

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