About Me And The White Terns

It All Started With A Little Yellow Chick Named Kirby!

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About two years ago, I stumbled across an online Facebook event "White Tern Photographer's Walk".  I had been interested in photography for a couple of years, 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 tour 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.  The tour guide 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 the tour guide said was probably the parent bringing it its lunch.  Sure enough, within about a half hour, a beautiful white bird with 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 lunchtime 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 5 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) (35 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 fishies).  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 many months, I have photologged about 20 chicks.  They all have had names based on a gut feeling after watching them...Chief, Roy, Joy, Star, Koa, 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 we find 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 2-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?  Thank you Kirby!


The White Tern or Manu O Ku is the Official Bird of the City and County of Honolulu since 2007.

Kirby's Sibling Star

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About a year after Kirby was hatched, along came little "Star".  

Kaipo, Kirby's New Sibling

Just this past May 4th, Kaipo hatched on the same branch - Kirby's new sibling.

Just this past May 4th on a stormy Spring day I had the honor of watching Kirby's new sibling hatch on their birth branch.  What a thrill!