LYDGATE — The ‘a’o, or Newell’s shearwater perched on Hana Montgomery’s hands flew right into the sand four or five times before it took to the skies Wednesday morning.
When it finally soared over the bay at Lydgate Park, Montgomery was just as delighted as the 38 Kanuikapono Charter School keiki watching from a pavilion at the Kamalani Playground.
“I like watching the birds fly out,” said Jack Jones, fifth-grader at the charter school. “It’s so cool.”
Fourth-grader Kea Eu-Parziale said she thought the birds were victims of fall-out, which is when lights interrupt their migration from the mountains to the ocean.
“The birds get confused and then they fall to the ground,” Eu-Parziale said.
Tracy Anderson, of Save Our Shearwaters (SOS), said that’s most likely what happened to the four ‘a’o that were brought to Lydgate Park on Wednesday morning for the 2017 E Ho’opomaika’o Ia Na Manu ‘A’o.
It happens every year as fledgling ‘a’o and u’au, or Hawaiian petrels, fly from their burrows to the sea.
If the birds that fall to the ground aren’t rescued, they become easy prey for cats, dogs and other predators according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
SOS and the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project organize the annual event, at which fledglings are released and local third, fourth and fifth-grade students learn about Kauai’s endangered seabirds and their place in Hawaiian culture.
In addition to the field trip event at Lydgate Park, SOS and KESRP members went into classrooms to teach kids about the seabirds and the threats to their existence.
“It’s so great to be able to show them (the kids) these special birds so they can foster care for them in the future,” Anderson said. “They’ve been a part of this island for a long time and they’re very special.”
Two of the birds in used in Wednesday’s event came from the North Shore, near the St. Regis, and the other two came from the Westside, Anderson said.
“They were taken to the aid stations last night and assessed,” Anderson said. “They’re cleared for release, so hopefully they fly.”
And fly they did — all but one ‘a’o, the second in line to be released, who hunkered down in Montgomery’s hands instead of spreading its wings to catch the wind.
After allowing the bird a few moments to decide its next move, Anderson tucked it safely back into its crate to be released at a later date — and perhaps in a location with a little less pressure.
She replaced it with another ‘a’o and that was the one that landed in the sand a few times before successfully gliding over the waves.
In total, three were released and all of them had a few hiccups before they caught the wind and flew away. The fledglings will be out at sea for the next three to five years, after which they’ll return to Kauai burrows.
“You see, you can’t give up,” Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said to the kids as he ran back toward the pavilion after the bird in his hands finally took flight. “It tried three times. You see, you have to keep trying.”
Watching the birds take off over the water, Maureen Fodale who was attending as an extra pair of hands for the school, said she thought it’s these kinds of experiences that matter for kids.
“It’s the experience that cements things,” Fodale said. “You can talk to the students about the seabirds, but the experience, that makes all the difference.”