Earlier this year we learned that a pair of Manu o Ku had bucked the local practice of terns nesting exclusively in trees. They chose instead to lay their egg on the railing on a third floor lanai at the state art museum in downtown Honolulu. Now a pair of white terns have been found raising their chick on a utility pole in Waikiki just outside the entrance to Kapiolani Park. Thanks to Satoko Lincoln for reporting that she noticed the chick being tended by its parents over the weekend. Time will tell how suitable a spot this location turns out to be. Nesting there on Kalakaua Avenue certainly shortens the parents’ commute to find fish for their chick. But today both parents and chick were suffering from the heat and lack of shade available on a utility pole.
As the White Tern breeding range on Oahu continues to expand we're on the lookout for Manu o Ku popping up in places where they haven't been seen nesting before. The North Shore is one area where they have not yet been documented laying eggs and raising chicks. That's what made the discovery of this large White Tern chick in Kailua last week quite a surprise. This chick may be able to make short hops between branches in the tree where it hatched. It might even be able to make some brief flights away from its nesting tree and back. But flying over or around the mountains from the only area on Oahu where they're known to breed, all the way to Kailua? Not likely, but how to explain how this chick made it all the way over there? Answer: It hitched a ride in the back of a pickup! That's right, a pickup truck that had been in the Honolulu area earlier in the day showed up in Kailua late Friday afternoon and happened to park right next to the car belonging to an observant Helena Kam. Helena knows her Hawaiian wildlife and quickly recognized this as a Manu o Ku chick that was a long way from home. She rescued the chick from the back of the pickup and, because of her quick action, we were able to deliver the youngster to the rehabber who will care for the chick until it's ready to rejoin the White Tern population. We would like to have been able to reunite the chick with its parents, but all things considered this is one lucky chick!
The white tern pair in the tree in the center of campus at Kapiolani Community College is raising their second chick of this breeding season. That's good news. Even better is that our friends at the college have restarted the webcam so you can follow this chick while it spends the next several weeks growing and being tended by its parents. If you're lucky you might get to watch the chick being fed fish that its parents catch offshore and bring back whole. Thanks to Katie Gipson for sharing with the rest of us!
Check it out at https://www.twitch.tv/kccmanuoku
It’s short notice, but I think this is a good time to organize a downtown Honolulu White Tern walk! Recent surveys in the area have turned up a number of great viewing opportunities for seeing eggs and chicks in various stages of development, some in very accessible locations for direct visual observation and photographing. If you’d like to see for yourself what the terns are up to downtown plan to meet in the grove of kukui trees at the intersection of Richards and Hotel streets this coming Saturday (July 22) at 10:30. We’ll be doing an orientation to tern monitoring at the same location starting at 9:30 - feel free to join us for that if you’d like to learn more about the White Tern Citizen Science project. We’ll then head out to see what it’s all about at 10:30!
The purple pin marks the spot where we'll gather to start the walk.
When we see a tern waiting in a tree with a fish we typically assume that it's waiting for a chick to return for its daily food allowance. It turns out that a tern waiting with a fish could also be waiting for the other kind of chick! Courtship feeding - when a male feeds a fish to a female mate, or prospective mate - is something that other tern species commonly do. White terns on Oahu either do it rarely, or they tend to do it out of sight.
While observing terns at Holy Nativity School in Aina Haina recently I saw some strange behavior involving two adult terns and a fish. It took place close enough and went on long enough that I was able to video much of it on my iPhone.
The action starts with an adult (male) landing in a tree with a fish. Another adult (female) immediately comes over and lands next to him. They then make a brief circular flight from the tree and then return together. This is where the video starts. The female seems to know how this is supposed to work and, shall we say, “proactively accepts” the fish. The male seems less certain about how the game is played and is slow to let the fish go. The female then begins to preen the male, which he appears to enjoy and is sufficiently distracted that she is able to slip the fish from his grip. What’s really strange is that she doesn’t immediately swallow the fish. Instead, she seems to tease him with it. The fish play goes on a bit more after the video stops and eventually the fish falls to the ground. The pair then engages in an extended session of allopreening.
I shared the video with a couple of seabird experts. The consensus is that this is probably an inexperienced male awkwardly trying to entice a prospective mate. Or, it could be that this young male has shown up with a good looking fish and an aggressive female is “coming on to him”, trying to separate him from his fish. Either way it’s an example of tern behavior that we should be on the look out for. As Eric VanderWerf (Pacific Rim Conservation) pointed out, if you see a white tern flying around with a fish in his mouth you can be certain that he’s not just carrying it around. What’s not so certain is which kind of “chick” he intends to give it to!
Tucked away on Cooke Street just makai of Kapiolani Boulevard is a row of shower trees that hosts several breeding pairs of white terns. Almost any time of the year there's at least one chick there in some stage of development. On or about July 5th one more chick hatched there. This nesting spot clings to the side of the trunk of the tree and is one of those that you look at and wonder what on earth the adults were thinking when they selected it. If you've watched white terns much at all, you know that they are very deliberate in their nesting spot selection. They don't lay an egg until both parents have closely inspected and approved the spot where they will be taking turns with incubation duties for an entire month. Bad site selection can have disastrous consequences for the egg and, if it survives to hatch, the chick. However, after successfully fledging one chick here earlier this year, this pair returned to tempt fate again. For a second time since February the parents are now feeding and caring for a chick on a precarious ledge that the youngster will call home for at least the next 6 or 7 weeks. Then, when it's able to fly and to choose where it'll perch for the rest of its growing-up time, it'll probably pick another spot in the tree with a little more room to move around!
Thanks to Don Poole for this stunning photo of the newly-hatched chick being fed. Awesome shot Don! You can check out more of Don's collection of amazing white tern photos at http://hawaiishotsphotography.com/fairy-tern.html