The Nightingales of Hualalai sing their historic songs, dating back to the beginning of the Kona coffee plantations when donkeys were imported to help with the harvest. Every night the donkeys brayed, calling from farm to farm, and they earned the nickname Kona Nightingales.
After World War II influenced life in the Hawaiian islands, military jeeps became the new beasts of burden for coffee farmers and Kona Nightingales were set free to forage in the rain forest and on the grassy lava fields of West Hawai'i. The herds still live on the side of Hualalai Volcano, grazing and drinking rainwater collected in the rocks. They frequent lands near Hualalai Resort, the Four Seasons Hotel and Kona Village Resort. Near these resorts, north of Keahole-Kona Airport, a highway sign warns drivers of a Donkey Crossing.Kona Village Resort manger Fred Duerr says the main herd lives mostly on the
makai (towards-the-ocean) side of the highway and is comprised of jennies, their young, and a jack who protects them from the jacks who live up the mountain. Every so often a young jack comes down from the volcano and challenges the herd leader, hoping to take his place.
Kona Village allows the Nightingales to drink from a pond near the resort grounds, and over the years, the resort has adopted orphaned Nightingales, including the playful Lani, who became the subject of a children's book by Vonnie Lyons.
During recent construction of the Four Seasons Hotel at Hualalai, community sentiment and the developers' concern for the Nightingales, led to careful planning for rock walls and subtle fencing, to give the donkeys access to their feeding grounds and watering hole while protecting the landscaping and golf courses from their foraging.
The Nightingales are camouflaged in earthen colors, from red to black and brown, and require a keen eye to see them from the highway, as they travel across the lava flows.