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Cameron Smith

No Friday night lights on Hawaiian island ... because of birds

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Nothing beats a nice, tropical Friday night under bright lights for high school football fans, right? Not if you're a high school football fan on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where all games now have to be played on Saturday because of a very surprising culprit: A tiny bird.

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According to the Associated Press, all high school football games on the island of Kauai originally scheduled for Friday nights had to be moved to Saturday afternoons this year, following massive death totals for young Newell's shearwater seabirds, which allegedly confused stadium lights for the moon. That confusion would often lead the birds to become disoriented and fall from the sky, making them easy prey for Hawaiian domesticated cats on the ground.

"When they hit the ground, it's usually very hard for them to take off," Hawaii wildlife program manager Scott Fretz told the AP. "They need a breeze or they need a place to launch from. They're just sitting ducks for the cats that are all over the place."

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The problem is literally one of life or death importance for the Newell's shearwater, which has reportedly seen population decreases of as much as 75 percent since its mid-1990s high of 80,000. With native threats like goats and pigs, they simply couldn't absorb more losses from unforeseen lighting issues.

Nevertheless, Kauai residents complain that their culture and the safety of their own children are now being pushed to a secondary concern because of a flock of birds.

"They chose the bird over our keiki," Kauai resident Rich Rapozo told the AP, using the Hawaiian word for children.

Those children are at a much higher risk of heat stroke when Hawaiian games are played during the day. Because of Hawaii's bright sun and humid climate, coaches at Kauai's three high schools have had to take significant measures to keep their athletes from overheating.

Even with those preventative measures, the effect on Kauai student athletes has been overwhelming.

"It's hot. And you get all tired. You cannot focus," Kauai High running back and linebacker Travis Koga told the AP. "I think it's best -- Friday night lights. Not Saturday day football. It's Friday night lights."

Still, it seems unlikely that Koga and other residents of Kauai will get Friday night football back before next season ... at the earliest. The school district moved its games this year after receiving a complaint from the U.S. Justice Department, which said the school district failed to heed a 2005 warning about the threat its lighting structures posed to the Newell's shearwater.

While specially constructed lights that will pose less damage are scheduled to be in place by the start of the 2011 season, there are still logistical problems surrounding both game lighting and additional preventative steps that would need to be taken to protect the Kauai schools from legal action should birds continue to perish at an alarming rate.

Until Friday nights in the fall do return to normal on Kauai, area residents will remain convinced that they are losing a cherished part of local culture.

"Because we're in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we don't have much to have to offer our kids. On a Friday night, this is what our kids would look forward to," Lori Koga, Travis' mother, told the AP. "And then they took that away from us."

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