A beautiful sight to behold, these White terns, Manu-o-Ku. Bright white, with a wingspan of around two feet, and a perfect fan of tail feathers, it is easy to understand another common name it has: angel tern. Black eye rings make it appear to have very large eyes. Its black bill is sharply pointed, and is dark blue at the base. The feet are a slate blue with yellowish webbing. Manu-o-Ku breed on tropical and subtropical islands, and are known for their unusual nesting behavior: instead of constructing a nest, they scout out any place that has a suitable depression, be it on a tree branch, a rocky ledge, on buildings, even on the ground. They breed throughout the NWHI, as well as O'ahu. A single egg is laid, which both parents incubate. They also share the feeding of the chick when it hatches. Manu-o-Ku go out to sea by day to forage, returning to roost on land in the late afternoon. Juvenile goatfish and flying fish are favorite meals, which they catch by dipping along the ocean surface, or by taking a quick dive. This diurnal movement from land to sea, then returning to land makes them a fairly reliable indicator of the direction of an island to the navigator and crew on the Hokule'a (though there are times when these birds may not return to land in the afternoon). They are thought to venture up to 120 miles out to sea, which may give the watchful crew a course direction for land long before it comes into view.
When you spot your first Kolea this August, stop to consider the journey it has just completed. Unable to soar or rest on the water, this remarkable bird has just pumped its wings up and down for perhaps three thousand miles in its epic non-stop journey from the arctic tundra to the very patch of land you find it. It is likely the very same patch it patrolled during its previous winters here. Take a moment to marvel.
The eggs have been laid, incubated, hatched, and now the juveniles have been left to fatten up so that they, too, can make the journey in October. Scientists don't know how they accomplish this amazing feat of navigation, particularly since they have never made the flight before. And if, after that long journey, the young arriving in the fall cannot establish their own territory, it may mean an additional leg of the journey further south. Though they are shorebirds, kolea occupy a variety of territories, as long as they are open and have low vegetation: golf courses, parks, fields, and marshes will do. Once settled, they will spend the winter poking around for moths, caterpillars, cockroaches, and the like. They patrol their territories with both caution and a bit of daring, strutting quickly, then abruptly stopping and watching, rarely intimidated enough to fly off. In the spring, their diet will expand to include berries, seeds and leaves prior to their return trip in late April to May. Just before they embark on that return journey, they'll sport a gorgeous summer breeding plumage: a dark underbelly and face piped with a racing stripe of white. I for one am inspired by the fortitude of this delicate little bird.
The endangered Hawaiian stilt, or Ae'o (Himantopus mexicanus knudseni) is a beautiful sight to behold in Hawaii's wetlands and marshes with it's dark upper body offset by white underneath and up through the neck and near the bill. It has red eyes, with a variable white dot above. The legs are pink, and, um yeah, they're pretty long. It shares it genus Himantopus with four other species that look quite similar. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, birds of this genus "have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird, exceeded only by flamingos." Ae'o are well adapted to their environs: the long legs help them to gracefully and slowly navigate the shifting surface of the wetlands, and the legs can bend backward to bring the body nearer to the ground. The slender bill is suitable for probing the muddy waters for aquatic invertebrates, or for having a go at small fish. A long and flexible neck helps with the hunting techniques as well.
They are quiet while hunting, but can emit a sharp call in flight, or when defending their nests, which are often shallow depressions dug in the ground. Three or four eggs are typically laid, and both male and female will share in the incubating and brooding of their young. Ae'o are known to be fierce defenders of their nests, and will dive bomb intruders, or feign a broken wing to divert the intruder's attention from the nest (I haven't seen the Ae'o do this, but I have seen killdeer put on the broken wing act, and it is pretty convincing). Young stay with their parents for several months. Places to see Ae'o here on Oahu include Hamakua Marsh and at Kahuku Point on the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge.
Acridotheres tristis tristis vs. Hawaii residents. Let's just say the common myna is not at the top of everyone's favorites list. This bird really gets people worked up, and there is little attempt to sugar-coat how they feel. So I felt compelled to do a little research to find out the good, the bad, and the ugly about this ever-present and vocal bird.
For starters, the common myna was brought to Honolulu in 1866, in an effort to combat an agricultural pest, the cutworm moth, which was wrecking havoc on the sugarcane crops. The mynas were successful, as was their adaption to urban and suburban habitats; they quickly established themselves on neighboring islands. Mynas are striking looking birds, with their bold yellow legs and eye patch. Their confident, even cocky manner of walking instead of hopping can be amusing to watch. Far from shy and retiring, they are highly territorial, and make their presence known through a variety of squawks, clicks, whistles, growls and chirps. While many find them noisy and quarrelsome, they are talented mimics, and you have to admit that their range of vocalizations is pretty amazing. That is, unless you live near their communal roost. Every evening just before sundown, mynas (with the exception of incubating females) within a kilometer or so will meet up at the communal roost, which is typically in a tree with a dense canopy, such as a monkeypod or banyan. Here, they vocalize together in something called a communal noise, which, as you might imagine, can be overwhelming. Needless to say, their droppings at the roost site can pose a bit of a health hazard.
Their nesting behavior is another issue: mynas like to nest in tree hollows, or anything resembling a tree hollow, like drainpipes and gutters, which doesn't endear them to many homeowners. Even more egregious, they compete for coveted tree hollows with other birds, and may even evict residents in unsavory ways. This behavior is documented in other countries, though I didn't locate specific information on this in Hawaii. Mynas have a varied diet; they'll scavenge roadside kill and garbage, as well as eat insects, fruits, lizards, eggs.... well, they're not very picky eaters. They have been observed eating the eggs of wedge-tailed shearwaters, ‘Ua‘u kani. That's a no-no. And the fruit industry isn't too fond of them either. Consumption of the berries of the lantana by mynas has resulted in the spreading the seeds of this invasive plant. And if things couldn't look worse for the myna's defense council, they also carry avian malaria, and a host of other mites, worms, and, well you get the picture. In 2008, they earned the notorius title of "The Most Important Pest/Problem" in Australia, and was one of only three birds to be included in the "Top 100 Worst Invasive Species" by the IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) (by the way, we have another bird on that list here in Hawaii, the Red-Vented Bulbul). We'll Mr. Myna, you have the right to remain silent.....
There are some birds that just have a bubbly optimism to them, and this is one of them. Inquisitive, active, and a versatile hunter of insects and spiders, the 'Elepaio is a wonderful bird to get acquainted with. Just the way it cocks its tail feathers makes it look as if it is posing a question. Don't be surprised if you see one flit down to the lower branches to check out what you are doing. The 'Elepaio belongs to the Old World Flycather Family, and is considered one of the most adaptable of Hawaii's native birds. They are generally recognized by small size and long tails; brown, black, white and rufus coloring; and white wingbars. It is said to mate for life and are loyal to the territory they choose. The female sings, and this is uncommon for songbirds.
'Elepaio are found on three of the MHI: Kauai, Oahu, and the Big Island, and were considered one species, but have since been split into three subspecies of Chasiempis sandwichensis: C.s.sclateri on Kauai, C.s. ibidis on Oahu, and C.s.sandwishensis on the Big island. It is not clear why they are absent from Maui Nui. The populations on the Big Island and Kauai seem to be faring well, adapting to a range of habitats, but the Oahu 'Elepaio was placed on the Endangered List in 2000, with limited ranges in the Wai'anae and Ko'olau mountains. In early July of this year (2013) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that Hawaii has received a grant to purchase some 635 acres of critical habitat for the Ohau 'Elepaio. The 'Aiea Ridge Trail falls entirely within this area, and is a great place to go and see this endemic treasure, as well as several important plant species.
A flash of red from the treetop, and then the familiar whoo-ett, whoo-ett, whoo-ett, tuer tuer tuer. That followed by a series of persistent and loud metallic chirps, and you know you're being paid a visit by the Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis. What is the "northern" cardinal doing in the tropics? Well, the northern part refers to the fact that this species has the northernmost range of the cardinals. Introduced to the islands in the late 1920's by the Hui Manu Society, they are now well established. The brilliant red of the male has made this species a real favorite, with seven states claiming it as their state bird. You'll often see him up in the top branches, calling out, though they often feed on the ground. The female is lovely too, all dusky brown with wings, tail, and crest splashed with red. During courtship, the male will feed the female, beak to beak, and bring twigs and other materials to her for nest construction. It is unusual for female songbirds to sing, but this one does, especially during courtship and often from the nest, which she builds in low shrubs, tangles, and trees. Many report that the pair remains monogamous and mate for life.
welcomes you to visit with the all the wonderful flora and fauna that we share this lovely aina with.