The white tern breeding season continues at a high pitch with hundreds of pairs of manu o Ku incubating eggs and raising chicks across the greater Honolulu area. One of the most striking things about seeing a white tern adult tending its egg is the sense of peace and serenity they exude. This nesting tern is a good example of that, found nesting in a kukui tree in Waikiki.
The Hui Manu o Ku was featured in a March 28th news story on KHON 2 about a nesting pair of White Terns. The egg is carefully balanced on a lanai railing at the Hawaii State Art Museum. This building was scheduled for renovation, but this protected bird will delay that project. Since White Terns are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and because they are listed as "threatened" by the State of Hawaii, it is illegal to disturb or harass these birds. That means the construction work will be delayed until the egg hatches and the chick is able to fly and leave the nest, which may take several months. Kudos to the Art Museum management and the Hawaiian state government for adjusting the schedule for the project to accommodate the nesting needs of a pair of white terns. That’s real Aloha in action! If you missed the news piece, you can read the article here.
For the first several days tending a newly hatched chick is a full-time family effort. At this early age, one adult remains with the chick, brooding it to help it thermal regulate, while the other adult forages offshore. After catching fish of appropriately small size, the adult returns to the nest site and offers them to the chick, doing its best to help the chick take the fish head first. The young hatchling's inexperience and the difference in bill lengths makes grasping the last fish from the adult particularly challenging. It's therefore not unusual for the other adult to take that last fish with the tip of its bill and offer it to the chick. After temporarily satisfying its hunger one of the adults often then preens the chick a bit before it resumes brooding it. The second adult heads back out to sea and the cycle begins again.
Here's the latest white tern chick arrival in The Tree at St Andrews Cathedral. It hatched January 14th and this photo was taken the next day by our team arborist (Lake Gibby) as he was tending the cameras in tree that will monitor its growth and development. The photo shows how white tern chicks, from the moment they hatch, are equipped to grip and hold on to the branch where they'll spend the first several weeks of their life. This adaptation contributes to the relatively high survival rate the tern chicks enjoy despite the precarious perches their parents often pick for nesting sites on windy Oahu.
The Hui Manu-o-Kū is hosting two upcoming training sessions. These training sessions serve as an introduction to the Manu-o-Kū citizen science project. To learn more about this project, please visit www.whiteterns.org/citizenscience. At this training session, we will discuss the fun process of collecting data about White Tern breeding activities, including what to look for, how to input data and much more.
The two upcoming training sessions are scheduled for December 17th and January 7 from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm. If you're interested in attending or would like more information, please send us an email at email@example.com.
Banding is critical to the long-term study of migratory birds, including White Terns. To help improve our understanding of the movements of Honolulu’s population of White Terns the Hui Manu-o-Kū has begun to band White Tern chicks. The best time to do that is just before they reach the stage of development where they’re able to fly. After the dramatic increase in breeding activity that we saw beginning in October, chicks are starting to reach that stage now.
In the past two weeks, with help from Dr. Eric VanderWerf of Pacific Rim Conservation and Lake Gibby of Imua Landscaping, we've banded four chicks. Lake is a professional arborist who is lending his ability to adroitly climb trees to reach and retrieve nesting chicks. Eric, who is a certified bander, attaches a silver colored metal band with a unique identifying number to one of the chick’s legs. This band will allow anyone who finds the bird in the future to learn where and when it was banded. We’re also attaching colored bands to the birds to help anyone studying white tern behavior to differentiate one bird from another.
Not many of Honolulu’s White Terns are banded, but now there are four more that will soon be flying about the city and out to sea. As more chicks come of age the Hui Manu-o-Kū will be working to further add to the number of banded White Terns. Having more banded birds in the White Tern population will improve the ability of research projects, including the Hui’s citizen science initiative, to make meaningful contributions to what is known about the behavior of this species. It’s a small investment now that can pay big dividends in the future.
Earlier this year a White Tern incubating an egg in a tree in front of the central post office in downtown Honolulu was discovered to be banded. We sent the number recovered from the band to the Bird Banding Laboratory at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and learned that this white tern had been banded in 1981 near Diamond Head. At 35 years of age, this bird had lived twice the average lifespan for a white tern… and was still laying eggs! Who knows what the manu-o-Kū we band now will help citizen scientists and other researchers learn about these amazing birds in the future.
Next to St. Andrew's Church in Downtown Honolulu, there's a Kukui tree that currently hosts six White Tern nests (GPS pt. 344). So many terns nesting in one tree is highly unusual, especially at this time of year. So many eggs and chicks in one place provides a great opportunity to observe the different parenting styles among the population of White Terns in Honolulu. Some chicks are hatched into families where the parents demonstrate a much more hands-on approach and where they experience more interaction with their parents during the days and weeks that the chick's world is confined to the branch where they were hatched.
A two-week old chick in the St. Andrew's Kukui tree is one of these cases. A couple days ago, I watched as both parents returned from foraging at sea with two fish. One (likely the mother) landed first, followed immediately by the other (probably the father) with two fish in his bill. The mother took one fish from the father and carefully fed it to the chick, ensuring that it ate it head first. The mother then repeated the process with the second fish, pausing to make sure the chick had swallowed the first. It is not unusual to see this method of feeding among parents of very young chicks, where one passes the food to the other who then feeds the chick. By the time chicks are a couple weeks old, however, feeding tends to be pretty perfunctory. Not so with this little family, where the interaction between chick and parents provides one more example of what makes these birds so special.
The Hui Manu-o-Kū was recently featured in the "Ocean Watch" column of the September 24th edition of the Honolulu Star Advertiser! Thank you Susan Scott for an excellent article and for helping us spread the word about our Hui and Honolulu's White Terns!
For an online version of Oahu Hui Works to Protect Urban-Dwelling White Terns, click here.
Last week’s new arrival was hatched into this world in a relatively quiet and peaceful stand of Kukui trees near the war memorial on Richards Street. White Terns like this kind of urban environment for raising their young. The surroundings for this week’s new arrival could hardly be more different. It was hatched sometime during the past week, a little more than 20 feet up in a Shower Tree at the busy intersection of Kalakaua Ave and Kalaimoku St on the Waikiki strip. From its perch this chick will have a lot of traffic to watch - pedestrian and vehicle - over the next few months. Contrary to what you would think, White Terns also like this kind of urban environment for raising their young. At least that’s what the nesting map seems to show. Kalakaua Ave, with it’s non-stop traffic is one of the most densely packed stretches of nesting trees in the entire study area. In fact, this chick joins a veritable colony of young White Terns that currently call this part of Waikiki home. Just around the corner on Kalaimoku, a juvenile (at GPS point 1015 on the nesting map) splits its time between taking practice flights around the neighborhood and perching and preening just across the street from the Ritz Carlton and Tiffany’s. Back down Kalakaua in front of the Luana Hotel (GPS point 1014), a large chick spends its days largely unnoticed by the steady flow of pedestrians passing just below the spot 14’ 10” above the sidewalk where it hatched about a month ago. And about 50 feet back up Kalakaua (GPS point 519) , on a limb hanging out over the east-bound bus lane is another chick that hatched around the first of September. They are at different stages of development but they are all part of the 2016 cohort of the growing Oahu manu-o-Kū population.
Photo Credit: Rich Downs