The Manu-o-Ku Sisters

Incubating_white_ternToday’s story is about a bird – and no, I’m not going to ask you to guess which one. Today, the heroines of our story are a seabird called a manu-o-Ku. In English, it’s called a white tern, and I would think you can guess what color most of its feathers are.

That’s right. They’re bright white.

Like a lot of seabirds who catch fish and squid – er, calamari – the manu-o-Ku spends a lot of its flying time circling around and looking down at the sea. Since it flies straight so seldom, that’s why it’s called a “turn.”

[The congregation responded with not-so-muffled groans.]

This, incidentally, is why most people prefer that I use the Hawaiian names for creatures in my stories. I can’t pun in Hawaiian.

Well, there are three manu-o-Ku in this story, and the three of them were sisters. They were all grown up, each had a husband, and each would set out to lay a new egg and add a new chick to the family each year.

Manu-o-Ku are somewhat unusual among birds. They don’t build a nest for their eggs at all. They find a depression in the ground, or among rocks, or on a branch, and they lay a single egg in it. Both father and mother take terns (terns, get? take terns) keeping the egg warm.

These three sisters, however, had different ideas about where to lay their eggs.

The first sister was the one who wanted to get things over and done with. She would find a spot on the ground with only the barest hint of a depression, and it didn’t matter to her if there was a slope. In fact, when she and her husband would trade places, they’d sometimes have to hold the egg in place with their webbed feet.

There were seasons when the two of them went scrambling after a rolling egg and gently coaxed it back into place.

The second sister was the perfectionist. She looked high and low (literally, on the ground and in the trees) for the perfect spot for her egg. If the depression was a little to big, she moved on. If it was a little too small, she moved on. If there was anything even the tiniest bit out of place, she moved on.

She was always the last to choose her place and lay her egg, and she drove her sisters, her husband, and the rest of the family nearly frantic with worry that she’d wait too long and lay her egg in mid-air!

The last of the three manu-o-Ku sisters was careful, but not compulsive. She was decisive, but not slipshod. Her egg might rock in its depression, but it would not roll away. She turned away from plenty of potential sites that could put her egg at risk, but she found a good one in plenty of time.

There’s a difference between being careless and being too picky. It’s important to see that we meet our real needs, whether that be for food or water or shelter or, of course, a safe place to lay an egg. It can be nearly as big a problem, however, to require perfection for our needs, or confuse what we want with what we need.

We might find ourselves laying an egg in mid-air. So to speak.

Photo by Duncan Wright – USFWS Hawaiian Islands NWR, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1167986