KAMALANI — After two failed tries at takeoff, the fledgling ‘a’o (newell’s shearwater) perched on the edge of a stand near Lydgate Park’s Kamalani Kai Play Bridge and peered over the edge.
It flirted with the idea of taking wing for a minute before diving from the platform, barely clearing the surf and soaring out into the open ocean, a cheering audience in its wake.
“These birds will be out at sea for three-to-five years before they come back,” Tracy Anderson, coordinator of Save our Shearwaters told the group of fourth-graders who had come to see the annual release of the fledglings.
Aria Cuthbertson, 9, was riveted watching the birds, which were released in two batches of three, timed with lessons for the keiki separated into two groups.
“It’s really cool,” Cuthbertson said. “It’s symbolic to Hawaii because the Polynesians used them to navigate here and they’ve been here before humans have.”
In addition to the traditional ‘a’o, another little fledgling was ready to take off on Tuesday — a leach’s storm petrel, which isn’t as commonly seen on Kauai according to Anderson.
“They’re such small little birds and it’s amazing how they spend almost all of their time at sea,” Anderson said.
Annually the E Ho’opomaika la Na Manu ‘A’o, organized by Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project and the SOS Program, draws island fourth-graders to celebrate the fledging ‘a’o, and to learn about the birds’ connection to their culture.
“It all has to do with teaching the children to malama our earth and nature and our island,” said kumu Sabra Kauka, who was overseeing the release of the birds.
In addition to their role in Hawaiian history, as well as their connection with today’s fishermen, the release of the ‘a’o fledglings sends a message that the island’s young people will always have a home in Kauai.
“You never know what child is going to be impacted by one of these SOS guys,” Kauka said. “You never know who is going to grow up, leave and learn and come back and establish on this island.”