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Wings: Birds & Feathers Of Hawai‘i


Storytime Video and Activity: Kōlea and Chief's Cloak

“Kōlea and the Chief’s Cloak” by Alice Guild Narrated by Bishop Museum Education Staff Member, Kaʻehu.

Storytime Activity: “Kōlea and the Chief’s Cloak”
After book reading draw a kōlea and tag us on social @bishopmuseum! We want to see your art and how your doing! 

“Kōlea and the Chief’s Cloak” by Alice Guild is available for purchase at Bishop Museum Press.

Migration of the Kōlea Podcast​

Click the image and audio file to learn more.


Feathers in Hawaiian History

Click on each image to learn more.


Birds of Summer Star Map

This is a map of the early morning sky on April 15 2020 at 5:30 a.m. and it will be accurate from April 15 – 21. After that time the Earth will have moved enough through the solar system that stars and the planets will have shifted away from our point of view.

Highlights include the Birds of Summer in the Summer or Navigator’s Triangle and ‘Iwakeli’i, the Great Frigate Bird also known as Cassiopeia. Also note the line up of Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter along with the Moon the morning of the April 15! The Moon is only in that position on the 15th. Its own orbit around the Earth changes where we see it every day. Check out the video Birds of the Summer to learn more!


Discover the science of birds in Hawai’i and their impact on the environment around them.

a baby bird is sitting in the grass.

Winged Ambassadors
by Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge

As Vertebrate Zoology Collections Manager at Bishop Museum, I often come into contact with local organizations that share our mission of promoting a better understanding of Hawaiʻi’s threatened wildlife. One of these is Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, a nonprofit that studies and protects imperiled ecosystems by engaging diverse communities through innovative scientific and artistic collaborations. 

a picture of birds on a window sill.

Honeycreepers & Adaptive Radiation Blog Post

Hawaiʻi is home to over 10,000 examples of species changing and adapting to overcome environmental challenges. The Hawaiian Islands grow from a hotspot and then recede as they move further away from it. This movement creates changes to the environment, which in turn has created changes in species like Hawaiian Honeycreepers. The first flock arrived maybe around 8 million years ago *Wylie, R. (2015, June 25), and as the Honeycreepers expanded to other islands and sometimes returned to former habitats, changes occurred due to environmental adaptive measures.

Be a Part of Our Story

Celebrate the extraordinary history, culture, and environment of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific with a gift to Bishop Museum. As a partner in the Museum’s work, you can help to sustain vital collections, research, and knowledge, and inspire exploration and discovery with a tax-deductible donation.

a bird is standing on the grass in front of a building.

Our Campus of Kaiwiʻula is home to a few of these wonderful Shore birds. They are indigenous to Hawai’i and primarily feed on insects such as cockroaches, moths ,and caterpillars while in Hawai’i. During breeding season (in Alaska) they are known to eat berries, leaves and seeds. Upon their arrival to Hawaii their feathers are dull and lacking in color from their journey. 

They fly over 3,000 miles at an elevation of 20,000 feet every August to Hawaiʻi and depart in late April. Most of their time spent in Hawaiʻi is in large grassy areas as kōlea are territorial and they return to the same place each year. By the time they depart, their plumage has changed and become vibrant once again. 
Our kōlea of Kaiwiʻula will be leaving us soon but we’ll see them again when they return! 

a close up of a bird's feathers on a table.

While red hulu (feathers) from ʻiʻiwi, and sometimes ʻapapane, can be seen in many examples of royal featherwork in Hawaiʻi, the yellow hulu of ʻōʻō and mamo were considered the most valuable and sacred because of their rarity.  These two honeycreeper species lived in the highest mountain forests and possessed mostly black plumage.  They were considered so precious that King Kamehameha is understood to have made laws that forbade the killing of these birds, according to the writings from David Malo, a Hawaiian historian of the 19th century.  As king, Kamehameha claimed all items of royal featherwork, but he wanted future generations to treasure the living birds as well.  Many featherwork birds were caught with a sticky mixture spread on a special pole called kia manu, atop which their feet would be stuck.  The bird catchers would release the birds’ feet using a special oil mixture, allowing the birds to fly away under their own power.

a wooden box with some items inside of it.

Princess Ruth’s Lei Hulu Trunk
This wooden trunk belonged to Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani Keanolani Kanāhoahoa, an aliʻi wahine (chiefess) of great knowledge, power, and aloha.  Born in 1826 to high chiefs Pauahi and Kekūanāoʻa, Princess Ruth was also therefore a great-granddaughter to King Kamehameha I.  She was a blood relative to many in the royal line, and especially to her dear cousin Bernice Pauahi Pākī, known more commonly under her married name of Bernice Pauahi Bishop.  Princess Ruth is remembered for her staunch desire to live as a Hawaiian, using ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi in all her engagements, building a Western-style mansion but living in a hale pili (pili grass house) and placing great value on traditional Hawaiian practices like featherwork.  This trunk itself is a precious vessel holding feathers and thread used by the Princess to create beautiful expressions of culture and mana.

a portrait of two men in a gold frame.

Portrait of Boki and Liliha in Royal Regalia (from the KSBE collection)
This image of high chiefs Liliha and Boki shows them posed with an English landscape of the 1820s in the background.  The original lithograph was made in 1824 by London artist, John Hayter.  Liliha and Boki were part of the royal entourage that accompanied the king, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and queen, Kamāmalu, to England in an effort to establish closer ties between the two nations.  The relationship was also greatly desired as a way to stave off other foreign powers from encroaching upon the Hawaiian Kingdom’s sovereign status.  Hayter not only painted Liliha and Boki, who chose to wear chiefly garb, but also painted King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamāmalu, who wore fine European clothing.  Instead, Liliha and Boki both wore chiefly featherwork as a sign of their rank and their connection to deity.  Liliha wears a lei poʻo (feathered head garland) and Boki wears both a feathered mahiole (helmet) and ʻahu ʻula (cloak).

a yellow dress is on display in a glass case.

Ahuula of King Kamehameha I
High-ranking Hawaiian chiefs were known to have had full-length ʻahu ʻula (cloaks and capes) made for them to signify their political and spiritual power.  While it is very likely he had more than one ʻahu ʻula created for him, it is known that King Kamehameha wore this special ʻahu ʻula during his lifetime.  This unique example of the skill of native featherworkers is made using the yellow feathers of the mamo and a smattering of red ʻiʻiwi feathers.  Small tufts of red feathers can be seen scattered among the sea of gold, but no other cloak with so many mamo feathers is known to exist.  Approximately 450,000 individual feathers, bundled in small groups, comprise the exterior of this ʻahu ʻula, which is understood to be an eternal treasure of the Hawaiian people and an exquisite example of the high level of expertise obtained by the featherworkers of a time long past.

a lamp shade is on display in a glass case.

Ahuula of Chiefess
Aliʻi men and women of Hawaiʻi had the right to wear feather work to show their special nature.  This ʻahu ʻula belonged to the chiefess Kalanikauikaʻalaneo, also known as Keōpūolani, a sacred favored wife of King Kamehameha.  Her most well-known children with Kamehameha were Liholiho, Kauikeaouli, and Nāhieʻenaʻena.  Upon the passing of Kamehameha in 1819, Keōpūolani’s son Liholiho became Kamehameha II, and after his passing in 1824, his younger brother Kauikeaouli became Kamehameha III.  Keōpūolani did not take up politics as Kamehameha’s other favorite wife, Kaʻahumanu did, but both of these royal wāhine, along with a young Liholiho, provided a catalyst for change in Hawaiʻi through their actions.  This ʻahu ʻula came to Bishop Museum in 1893, one of three sacred ʻahu ʻula connected to the legacies of the royal house of Kamehameha.

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