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Manu Minute: The Two Tail-Feathered Koa'e Kea

We're back to seabirds today! And we've got quite the looker. The koa'e kea is one of the most distinctive birds you can spot in the main Hawaiian islands.

Its English name, white-tailed tropicbird, references one of its most notable features — its two long, streaming tail feathers. These feathers are purely ornamental, and they're used in feather-working around the world.

The koa'e kea that call Hawai'i home will often fly hundreds of miles out to sea to find food. Unlike most seabirds, koa'e kea prefer to forage alone or in small groups.

It's quite a sight to behold — koa'e kea will plunge into the water from high altitudes to capture tiny fish and squid.

What does such a spectacular bird sound like? Well, kind of like a frog with a chest cold.

Listen to our Manu Minute to hear the raspy croaks of the koa'e kea for yourself!

AMTJ_White-tailed tropicbird Spectrogram Video.mp4

Audio credit:  Cornell Macaulay Library (ML5562)

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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