The Birds of Kawainui


At the corner of Hahani and Hekili Streets in Kailua.

Google Map pin:


Kawainui is the nearby wetland, only a couple of blocks from this traffic signal box. The name, Kawainui or Ka Wai Nui, breaks down into three Hawaiian words: Ka (the) wai (water) nui (abundant). Fresh water is the source of life and often, place names will include the word water (wai) because it is so critical to survival. A beautiful and sacred concept of water as the origin and sustenance of life is encoded into the Hawaiian language and cultural practice. A place like Kawainui is a sacred place thanks to its ability to store massive amounts of fresh water. The wetlands are teeming with animals, insects, plants, fish, and many other things that people need in order to thrive.

Against all odds, Kawainui marsh survived many plans for development during earlier eras. Conservation efforts prevailed, and plans to fill in the marsh with dirt and build over the top were eventually abandoned. It is now designated as a Ramsar International wetland, and it is the home to many endangered and endemic birds.

Each side of the box features a unique Hawaiian bird from the nearby marsh.

Kolea (Pacific Golden Plover)

This amazing bird, the Kolea, or Pacific Golden Plover, flies from Hawaii to Alaska every spring. It does not leave the sky during this massive trip. No water breaks, no food. For 3 – 4 days straight, it flies over the massive open ocean. To power the trip, it will use all its body’s fat reserves, even losing muscle and organ mass! Once in Alaska, it will nest and raise its offspring to adulthood. Then all the plovers reverse the migration at the beginning of autumn. Birds are amazing!!!

While they are here in Hawaii, their plumage starts as the mottled brown and black in the center of the panel. By spring, they have molted to display the striking black and gold mating plumage in the foreground. Here is a full view of the kolea panel:

ʻAlae keʻokeʻo also known as ‘Alae Kea (Hawaiian Coot)

ʻalae keʻokeʻo is an endangered and endemic bird (meaning it is found in the wild only here in the Hawaiian islands). This cute little bird can use its amazing webbed feet to run on the surface of the water for short distances! 

Here is a view of the full panel:

This photo was taken in the evening, and you can see the difference in the light, but I liked that it has no glare.

‘Aeo (Hawaiian Stilt)

The common name for this bird is the Hawaiian Stilt because of its long legs! In fact, it has the longest legs in the world relative to its size! It’s a wading bird that is endangered and found only in the Hawaiian islands. It’s always a special treat to see them in the shallow waters of the marsh with those long elegant pink legs!

Here is a full panel view:

‘alae ‘ula (Hawaiian Gallinule)

Also commonly called a mudhen, this cute little bird was the keeper of the secret of fire in mo’olelo. Maui forced the ‘alae ‘ula to tell the secret of how to make fire. He then gave this knowledge to humans. Their beaks are bright red with a yellow tip – the perfect colors for the firekeepers. You should check out their feet too! Google it. All these Hawaiian birds have great looking feet! Unfortunately, this bird is endangered and endemic as well.

Here is the full panel. I wanted to depict the care these birds give to their chicks.

This box overall also has a little bit of backstory. I started back in November of 2019. I broke my ankle while painting this mural after only one day of work! I waited for my ankle to heal enough to stand and walk with strength, and then COVID prevented us from seeking permits for the remainder of 2020. It was with great gratitude that I resumed painting in January of 2021 with the help of Street Art Hawaii, LLC, and Windward Artists Guild. Their assistance with the permitting allowed me to return to the fateful spot and resume the design. My life has changed so much in just a year and this was a wonderful step to healing and resolving unfinished public art. Every time I drove past it in 2020, I felt the yearning to finish the mural. I really wanted it to celebrate the nearby marsh and hopefully beautify the area.

Amazingly, my friend and fellow artist, Kelley Fitzgerald, who also painted a mural on the same 2 days in 2019 had a mishap – A car crashed into the traffic signal box, destroying her mural, so she has also been painting a replacement during this restoration project (we hope the occupants of the car have recovered well – we only know the car was also totaled unfortunately) It has been a great joy to work alongside my talented friend. You can see her beautiful muralled traffic box on Instagram or Facebook: @kelley_fitzgerald – A photo of her mural which celebrates watersports is shown in progress is below…

We both hope the residents and visitors of Kailua will enjoy these murals!