All photographs herein copyrighted and owned by Melody Bentz Photography and cannot be printed, posted, copied, or distributed for any purpose without written consent of the photographer.
Get to know the Manu O Ku through my photographs. Each photograph's caption below will tell you a little more about their story...who they are, how they live, what is their cultural significance, etc. At the end, please enjoy "My Story" of how I became smitten by these amazing seabirds.
The Hui Manu-O-Kū is a group of dedicated conservationists and citizens who have come together to observe, protect and raise awareness about Manu-O-Kū. Noting that very little focus was being put on the official bird of Honolulu, the group was formed in 2016. This is a collaborative group with representatives from US Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Rim Conservation, Hawaii Audubon Society, ‘Iolani School, State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawai'i Wildlife Center, and public citizens. We all share dedication and compassion for these beautiful native Hawaiian seabirds.
To report a chick that fell from its nest or to report an injured or abandoned bird
please call the Manu-O-Ku Hotline at (808) 379-7555
Search on Facebook for White Tern Citizen Science Group
A self-taught photographer who, when I’m not shooting landscapes, sunrises. sunsets, or portraits, you will find photographing my real passion Hawaii’s wildlife, mainly, the Hawaiian Monk Seal and the White Tern (Manu O Ku). Ironically, my love for these species began at almost the same time in 2017. As a volunteer for groups that protect these endangered and threatened species, my photographs are not only a means to document, research and study their behaviors so we can better understand them and educate the public; but they are also a way for those with a like passion to enjoy and share their beauty in their own homes.
About three years ago, I stumbled across an online Facebook event "White Tern Photographer's Walk". I had been interested in photography for a little while, but mostly shooting sunrises, sunsets, landscapes, and Hawaiian Monk Seals...a couple of birds here and there and some other wildlife...but I knew nothing about the White Terns? I looked at photos on line and curious about these White Terns, I asked my husband if he would take me down to Waikiki for the walk. It was a beautiful pre-Spring day, a bit of a chill in the air, but good for a walk. The group of 20 or so met under a tree at Kapiolani Park in Waikiki. Not knowing what I was really looking for, the guide, Rich Downs, pointed up in the tree above his head at a beautiful White Tern adult with a little chick by its side. I had seen the photos online of the adults, but not of the fluffy little amazing chicks. One look at the two of them on the branch together, the adult preening its chick (another new word I learned) and I was "Hooked" big time.
We stayed for a few minutes at that location and I found out that these curious birds didn't build a nest, they lay their eggs right on a branch! What's that you say? No nest? Well, then how does it stay there. Short answer is very carefully, but the birds make it work. Our tour then meandered through more trees and birds in the park, the group learning more and more about this species as we went along, until our last stop which was at the "New" International Marketplace.
Come to find out, the huge Banyan Tree there is a favorite tree of these birds and has been nest active almost since as long as we've known them to be in Waikiki. Rich pointed to different nesting spots in the tree until we ended up at the nest on the 3rd floor. There, sitting on this branch in a divet where the egg used to be was a little yellow chick no bigger than a silver dollar with oddly huge claws, beady eyes, and fluff galore. I remember thinking it was so close you could almost touch it. My heart melted at the sight of this lonely little chick sitting on its branch waiting for what was probably the parent bringing it its lunch.
Sure enough, within about a half hour, a beautiful white bird with angelic outstretched wings and a beak full of fish comes gracefully gliding in to rest on the branch next to the chick. The chick was so happy it could hardly contain itself, stomping its claws and moving side to side, but parent kept holding the fish away from the chick. I would later learn this is common practice so the chick will calm down before taking in a large meal.
Finally, it was time for its feeding. This was of course my first feeding so I didn't know what to expect and I too could hardly contain myself...I aimed my camera and started to shoot some pictures and within 10 short seconds the beak-full of long fish were already down and resting in the little now chubby chick's full belly. Wow, I was lucky to get just a couple of usable shots in that short amount of time. Since then, I've become more proficient at shooting these birds since many of their activities like flying, eating, preening and even pooping can be quick.
It was at this tour that I also was invited by Rich to be a volunteer for the White Tern Citizen Science project - he asked then, would I care to photolog this beautiful chick until it flies (later I learned the word fledges) (45 days from now) - well, of course!
I started my first photolog adventure of the little yellow chick at the IMP who I later named Kirby (after the vacuum cleaner - sucking down those fish so fast). I joined the White Tern Citizen Science page and shared my photos of Kirby and they liked my photos and the idea of naming chicks so much that others started naming "their chicks" too.
I became more and more interested in the species as well as the group I would later join known as the Hui Manu O Ku. It's the group that oversees the protection and care of the species and of which I am so glad and honored to be a part. Over these several years now, I have photologged 20+ chicks. They all have had names based on a gut feeling after watching them...Chief, Roy, Joy, Star, Koa, Louis, and many more. I have become obsessed with these beautiful birds and I now volunteer in an administrative capacity as well as rescuing and transporting birds that fall from their branches or who are found injured.
It's been quite the wild ride all starting with an invitation for a White Tern Walk and a little yellow chick named Kirby. I would have never thought 3-years later I would be conducting my own White Tern Photographer's Walk to share these amazing birds with others. I can only hope that those who attend are even a little bit drawn to them and find an appreciation for them as I did.
Who knows at any given time what events, things, or beings will direct your path in life to places you never even dreamed were ahead of you? In Hawaiian culture they call that your "Amakua" or spirit animal guide. Thank you Kirby!
About a year after Kirby hatched, along came little "Star". She was definitely another feisty little chick. In this photo she is having an argument with one of her parents.
On May 4th 2019 on a stormy Spring day I had the honor of watching Kirby's new sibling hatch on their birth branch. What a thrill!
Kirby gets a beak full of fish. 2 or 3 already sucked down...lucky to get the last few.