3 years/70 episodes: UH Hilo biologist Patrick Hart’s popular podcast on Hawai‘i native birds marks milestone

Professor Hart, whose lab focuses on the ecology and conservation of Hawaiian forests and forest birds, started the Manu Minute podcast in 2020 with hopes to foster community awareness and appreciation of Hawai‘i’s birds and ecosystems.

Photos of Pat Hart, the LOHE Lab logo and a bird. Words: Manuminutes Wednesdays on The Conversation, HPR

By Evangeline Lemieux.

Manu Minute, a weekly podcast hosted by Patrick Hart, a professor of biology at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo who specializes in forest birds, marks a milestone this fall with 70-plus episodes and counting airing on Hawai‘i Public Radio. Since debuting in 2020, each episode in the series lasts a minute or so with Hart sharing information about a single bird species found in Hawai‘i, complete with audio of the bird’s vocalizations made from field recordings conducted by the professor and his research team.

“It’s been going well, (HPR) tells me it’s popular,” says Hart, who is sending the public radio station another three new episodes this week. “It’s been a really fun little side project. We’re focusing this collection of information and sounds and Hawaiian stories about every bird that lives in Hawai‘i, or at least all the ones you might see at some point in your life.”

Bird with red on bill, stands in water.
With fewer than 1,000 individuals remaining, the ‘alae ‘ula is one of the rarest birds in Hawai‘i. Learn more about the ‘alae ‘ula on the Manu Minute podcast. (Photo Gary Kramer/USFWS)

Professor Hart, who founded and runs the UH Hilo Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems Laboratory, commonly called the LOHE Lab, started Manu Minute in 2020 with hopes to foster community awareness and appreciation of Hawai‘i’s birds and ecosystems. The educational podcast dovetails nicely with Hart’s area of expertise in the ecology and conservation of Hawaiian forests and forest birds, a major focus of his research.

The goal of Manu Minute at its outset was to produce a segment about every bird in Hawai‘i, and after 70 of the short podcasts (most aired more than once), this goal has almost been reached. The series covers both endemic and visiting birds with every bird paired with their song, so listeners can become familiar with the different and unique sounds of each species.

Hart writes and records these compact yet comprehensive podcast episodes when he can grab a few minutes between teaching classes and conducting research.

“I write and record them during the weekends, usually,” he says, “I send the recordings to Ann Tanimoto Johnson, who’s the lab manager in my lab, and then she adds the sound.”

In addition to the audio of the bird’s song and Hart’s narrative, each published segment includes a descriptive article about the species written by Hart, photos of the bird, and an image of the spectrogram of the bird’s song showing the details of the unique sound.

A small yellow bird singing in a tree.
Two ‘amakihi, a common honeycreeper, singing in the forest. UH Hilo ecologists at LOHE Lab have recorded bird vocalizations throughout the native forests of Hawai‘i Island for use in research and conservation efforts. Professor of Biology Patrick Hart shares these recordings along with information about the birds on Manu Minute, a weekly podcast series on Hawai‘i Public Radio. Learn more about the ‘amakihi on the Manu Minute podcast. (Photo: Mark Kimura)

‘O ka lele a nei ‘āuna

As there are only about 15 birds left for Hart to report on, he will soon be shifting gears to another bird-related sound project through his work with the group Ahuimanu.

“The group’s goals are to really reconnect people with birds, to reconnect connections that have been lost between people in Hawai‘i and the birds,” he explains. “Birds were here first, and then the people came, and when the people came there wasn’t any mammals or amphibians or reptiles, it was a very bird-dominated fauna. There was a lot of really important connections formed between people and birds.”

To reconnect humans with the birds of Hawai‘i, the group is working on composing an oli (Hawaiian chant) about all the birds of the Hawaiian Islands.

“It’s called ‘O ka lele a nei ‘āuna,” says Hart. “Basically each native bird gets a verse, or a pau ku, in this oli, borrowing from the format of the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation chant. It’s to envision the birds in a place of more abundance than they have now.”

Black and white sea bird aloft above ocean.
‘A‘o are endemic seabirds that serve important functions on both water and land. Learn more about ‘a‘o on the Manu Minute podcast. (Photo: Alex Wang/HPR)

The main similarity of this oli to the Kumulipo is the pairing of each bird in its verse with a creature from the sea and a creature from the mountains.

“(The intention) is to help all three move forward together toward the kind of future we would like to see for Hawai‘i’s birds,” explains Hart.

Hart and the group also intend for this oli to be a message of hope for birds and for their connection with the community. This message comes at a time of great vulnerability for Hawai‘i’s native birds, with the majority critically endangered.

In the meantime, Hart hopes to integrate the oli into Manu Minute by featuring each bird’s verse in the audio of its segment along with its birdcall, which would serve to integrate an element of culture and hope into the podcast.

Manu Minute, including the archives of the past three years, can be found on Apple podcasts, Spotify, on the Hawai‘i Public Radio website, and on the UH Hilo Biology Department’s website. The series runs on “The Conversation” on HPR every Wednesday at about 11:45 am.

Story by Evangeline Lemieux, who is double majoring in English and medical anthropology at UH Hilo.

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