Story by Catherine Cluett
Photo by Richard Cook
Before the Internet, before the postal service, homing pigeons were used for thousands of years to carry messages. But on Moloka‘i, homing pigeons are the message. At weddings, birthdays and memorials across the island and also occasionally on Maui, Clay Adachi waits, standing guard over a collection of wooden crates.
The moment the cue comes and he opens the lids of those crates, gasps of awe are heard: Dozens of multi-hued pigeons emerge to fill the sky with a rush of feathers and a palette of color: green, blue, yellow, orange, red, purple. “The response has always been ‘Wow!’” says an organizer of the annual Veterans Day service on Moloka‘i, where Adachi releases his pigeons every year for free. “It’s a special way to honor those who have served.” After their release, the birds converge and circle before homing in on their roomy pens in Adachi’s backyard.
Raising birds has been a passion of Adachi’s since he was a child. Some twenty years ago, when his flock had grown to about a hundred pigeons, he decided to rent it out. Dyeing the birds’ wings began as a way to mark them and has now turned into his signature—hence the name of his company, Molokai Rainbows.
Using food coloring, he dips pure white pigeons into colored water, then releases them onto his roof to dry. The process does pose one challenge: Colored pigeons can’t fly in the rain. The dye, Adachi explains, absorbs water, so the birds’ feathers get waterlogged when the rain comes down.
Pigeons can live up to twenty-five years, and Adachi still has some of his original birds. Expertly clasping each cooing, fluttering pigeon, he smooths their feathers and checks their weight. Keeping the birds healthy, he says, is the biggest challenge of the business. Every day, the flock is released twice to exercise. Swooping and dipping en masse over the outskirts of Kaunakakai, the pigeons put on a vibrant display that sometimes stops visitors in their tracks. The locals, though, are used to yet another rainbow in the sky: When the birds are released at the end of the day, says Adachi’s wife, Diane, “Our neighbors know it’s time to come home from work when they see the birds fly home.”