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Manu Minute: Northern Mockingbirds — Wait, We Have Those Here?

Ann Tanimoto-Johnson Northern mockingbird, AMT_8797.jpg
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson
Northern mockingbirds are a medium-size bird found throughout North America. Their wings are grey-black with two white bars and patches that are visible when they fly. They have long grey tails with white edges. Their eyes are yellow with a faint eye line, and they have black legs and feet.

“Mocking Birds Will Be Brought to Territory This Month by Hui Manu.”

That's a headline from a 1931 edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, back when it was cool to bring non-native species to Hawaiʻi on purpose. Starting in the 1920s and continuing into the 1960s, the Hui Manu Society sponsored the introduction of several songbirds to Oʻahu and intentionally released them into the wild.

In this instance, Hui Manu ordered 40 pairs of Northern mockingbirds from California in order to "liberate" them in Mānoa and Nuʻuanu.

According to the article, "Hui Manu was particularly impressed with the bird's song, which the members thought would add something missing from Hawaii's present charms."

Hui Manu was right about one thing — something was missing. By the early twentieth century, the lowlands of Hawaiʻi had lost many of its native songbirds to introduced predators, disease, and habitat destruction.

Ninety years later, we have better conservation strategies. But we have yet to see our endemic species reclaim their territory throughout Hawaiʻi.

AMTJ_Manu Minute, Northern mockingbird spectrogram video.mp4

Northern mockingbirds can learn over a hundred different songs. They can emulate other species and sounds, such as frogs, crickets, dogs, car alarms, and squeaky gates. Some of our endemic species, like the ΄apapane, are also known to mimic other birds, but none as well as the Northern mockingbird.

Audio credit:  Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (289372) 

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 also produces HPR's podcast Manu Minute in collaboration with The University of Hawaii at Hilo. She was born and raised on the Big Island, and she collects public radio mugs.
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