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Manu Minute: Little Lady Godiva

Ann Tanimoto-Johnson, Manu-o-ku, AMT_4329.jpg
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson
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HPR
In ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, manu-o-Kū translates to “Bird of Kū.” These snow-white birds were one of the forms of Kū, the god of war.

Want to get into bird watching, but don’t know where to start? How about the International Market Place in Waikiki? It’s home to a historic banyan tree that hosts up to 20 pairs of nesting white terns, or manu-o-Kū, at a time.

Ann Tanimoto-Johnson, Manu-o-ku chick, AMT_1124.jpg
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson
Unlike the snowy-white adult manu-o-Kū, tern chicks are grey and brown, which helps them blend in with surrounding branches. These birds don’t bother with building nests, they simply lay a single egg directly into the fork or grove in a tree branch, and the chick hatches after about a month of incubation.

One tern chick in particular has captured the hearts of many this summer. It perches no more than a few feet above shoppers' heads on one of the banyan branches that extends over the walkway. It's a rare opportunity to see a manu-o-Kū chick up close — but watch out for Mom and Dad. Manu-o-Kū are very protective and will dive at visitors that they perceive as threats.

Susan Scott is a board member of the Hawaii Audubon Society. She nicknamed the tern chick Lady Godiva after the old chocolatier location in the International Market Place.

Scott remembers seeing Lady Godiva’s parents court one another in this same banyan tree only a few months ago.

"When I was standing here, there was one adult, and then another one came, and it was feeding the other adult a fish, and that’s sort of a courting behavior. And they were talking to each other. And then the next time I came there was an egg," said Scott.

Lady Godiva will likely fledge soon, so go visit her while you can! And if you want to learn more, Scott wrote a whole book about the white terns in Honolulu.

The streets of Downtown Honolulu might not be the first place you'd think to bird watch, but at least one very special bird calls this city home: the indigenous manu-o-Kū, also known as the white tern. Today's Manu Minute was made with recordings from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Patrick Hart interests in the ecology and conservation of Hawaiian forests and forest birds stem from years of living in a primitive field camp as a graduate student in the 1990’s at Hakalau Forest National wildlife refuge.
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson is the Lab Manager & Research Technician in the Hart Lab/Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) Bioacoustics Lab. She researches the ecology, bioacoustics, and conservation of our native Hawaiian forests, birds, and bats.
Savannah Harriman-Pote rejoined The Conversation in 2021 after interning for Hawaiʻi Public Radio in the summers of 2018 and 2019. She completed her undergraduate degree in International Relations at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, during which time she worked for WMHC and Mount Holyoke News. She has also worked with the audio documentary series Outer Voices and National Geographic.
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