White Tern Taxonomy & Nomenclature
The White Tern is also known as the Atoll Tern, Fairy Tern, and White Noody. Their Hawaiian Name is Manu-o-Kū, meaning “Bird of Kū.” Kū is the god of War in Hawaiian Mythology and these birds are said to have lead the Hawaiian seafarers to the islands.
The White Tern is part of the Gygis genus but are closer to birds of the genus Anous than other terns.
It was named the official bird of Honolulu, Hawaii in 2007.
White Tern Habitat & Location in Hawaii
White Tern are usually found on islands across the Pacific Ocean but have been spotted on islands in the Indian Ocean and on the coast of South Africa. It is common on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and on the south shore of O’ahu. They are plentiful in Honolulu and have been seen at Fort DeRussy, Kapi’olani Park, ‘Iolani Palace, Thomas Square, and Kalakaua Avenue.
They are considered Sea Birds and are found on coral islands with vegetation.
White Terns do not construct nests. They often lay their egg on the beach or directly onto a flat surface such as a tree branch or rooftop. The White Tern of Honolulu are unique in that they nearly always nest in trees.
White Tern Conservation Status
White Terns are not considered a threatened species. They are generally common throughout their range and are considered very common in Hawai’i. They are indigenous to the islands.
The Hawaii Audubon Society and the Hawai’i Division of Forestry and Wildlife have an informational webpage on the White Tern called Hui Manu-o-Kū. They are seeking volunteers to count nests and report any incidents related to the birds. They also have a White Tern Webcam that livestreams a Whtie Tern nest at the Iolani School.
White Tern Physiology
White Tern are primarily white. They have long black bills and a ring of black feathers around their eyes. They feed on small fish.
White Terns are very vocal at their nesting sites. They make guttural chattering coos.