‘Alea ‘Ula – The Hawaiian Moorhen

alae ula

On our recent trip to Oahu, we saw our first ‘alae ‘ula at Waimea Valley (the waterfall place.) . This endangered bird is endemic to Hawaii (e.g. evolved in Hawaii and found nowhere else in the world). The Hawaiian moorhen is a waterbird, so they tend to live near freshwater marshes and taro fields on the of Kauai and Oahu.

I enjoy learning Hawaiian legends about places, birds, fish, etc. At the park I learned that the ‘alea ‘ula knew the secret for creating fire and withheld this secret from man. When Maui (the demi-god who fished out all the islands of Hawaii with his magic hook) asked the ‘alea ‘ula for the secret to make fire, she lied to him. When Maui found out, he was furious. So, he choked her until she revealed the secret of fire. As punishment for lying to him, Maui burnt her forehead with a red hot stick. That’s the reason for this bird’s distinctive red frontal shield.

To learn more about this Hawaiian moorhen, see this link to a fact sheet.


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About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

5 comments

  1. Is it wrong to be entirely in love with a bird at first sight? :)

    That Maui sounds like a real jerk, hurting a cute, big yellow-feety bird just for doing its job. Sheesh.

    • Hi Melanie – definitely not wrong. :) Glad you enjoyed a look at one of Hawaii’s endemic birds.

      Do you know the famous Hawaiian singer, IZ? He sings a song about Maui called something like the “Hawaiian Supahman”. Maui is very revered in Hawaii, but yeah, he might have been a tad harsh with this tweety. :)

  2. Maui appears in a lot of legends and was considered quite an athlete. But he was also a prankster and got his brothers in trouble a lot too.

    The Moorhen played another role in Hawaiian legends. Maui went to catch the giant fish called Pimoi ( I think that was his name) and he used the moorhen as bate because the giant fish was attracted to the red on the hen. That is how he fished up the islands.

    Karen in Honolulu

    • Hi Karen – very interesting! Thanks for the addition.

      From my visit to the Bishop Museum, I recall there’s a very large painting of Maui on his fishing trip. Is the Hawaiian moorhen shown in that painting?

  3. Yes, Maui is holding it in his arms.

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