Completely white with large black eyes, white terns have fascinated me since I first learned of their existence in 2010. At the time I never thought I’d see one but today I’m in Hawaii where they’re the official bird of Honolulu. They nest in Kapiolani Park near our hotel.
White terns (Gygis alba) are immaculate white seabirds with long blue-black beaks and a buoyant erratic flight. They live in the tropical Pacific, Indian and south Atlantic Oceans where their wide range and physical characteristics give them many names including common fairy terns, angel terns and manu-o-Ku in Hawaii. Surprisingly, Gygis alba are more closely related to noddies than to terns so they’re technically white noddies.
White terns first caught my attention when I learned about their nesting strategy. They’re at the extreme end of Birds That Don’t Build Nests. The female lays her single egg on a thin bare tree branch without any nesting material.
She tries to place it in a fork or natural depression but the egg is always in danger of blowing away. If it does, she quickly cycles and lays another one.
If it hatches, the chick is equipped with long claws and strong webbed feet to hang on in the wind. In this way white terns can raise up to three chicks per year.
Today our tour will spend time in Kapiolani Park so I’m sure to see white terns. For the first time in my life I’ll see fairies.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
Tour Day 2: Kapiolani Park and Oahu island