The kioea bird, or bristle-thighed curlew, became the official bird of Kaunakakai on Oct. 25 when Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa and County Council Chairman Danny Mateo signed the proclamation in front of a fourth grade class at Kaunakakai Elementary School.
The movement to name the kioea the bird of Kaunakakai was the work of local birder and wildlife biologist Arleone Dibben-Young, who started a petition that garnered over 1,000 signatures.
While rare, the bird with the long curved beak is ubiquitous around Molokai, showing up in yards and monkeypod trees everywhere. Although it is not classified as endangered, the kioea is currently under state and federal protection with only an estimated 3,500 breeding pairs left, according to Dibben-Young.
Dibben-Young, who managed the Ohiapilo Pond Bird Sanctuary for five years and is the main organizer for annual bird counts around Molokai, decided the bird would serve as an appropriate symbol for Molokai.
The designation may help boost eco-tourism on Molokai while also helping provide additional protection for the species. “The people of Molokai love them,” she told The Maui News.
According to Dibben-Young, The Molokai Visitors Association has added the town’s official bird to its campaigns, and T-shirts and ball caps are being made up.
The Kalamaula area just west of Kaunakakai — the first homestead in all of Hawaii — even has a nickname for its shoreline area, Ho’olonokioea, or listening to the kioea’s call.