Jan 28 2010

Beyond Bounds: Least Tern

Published by at 7:14 am under Beyond Bounds,Water and Shore

Least Tern feeding young (photo by Brian Herman)
If I had to pick a favorite tern this one is it.

The least tern is small, beautiful, animated and endangered.

Only the size of a starling, the least tern breeds on the open beaches of the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts, throughout the Caribbean, and on gravel flats along rivers in Texas and the Mississippi watershed including the Missouri, Platte, Arkansas, Brazos, Trinity and Rio Grande.

Their habit of nesting on beaches has made them endangered because their nests fail completely when faced with human development and recreation.  They are especially vulnerable along rivers where channelization and dams either flood the beach or prevent the water from scouring riverbank vegetation and forming the gravel beds these birds require.  They do better in Atlantic coastal states where their beach nesting sites are roped off to keep out people, dogs and vehicles.

And, yes, these birds are cute.

The first time I saw one was mid-May in New Jersey when the terns were courting.  The females would stand on the sand while the males would chatter and fly out to the surf, capture a tiny fish and bring it back to their chosen mate.  If the lady was impressed she would chatter too, eat the fish and ultimately mate with him.  The carrying and presenting of the tiny fish was very cute and it was very like feeding a nestling, pictured here.

I wish I could see least terns more often but they live beyond the bounds of southwestern Pennsylvania.  Brian Herman photographed this parent and juvenile in New Jersey.

(photo by Brian Herman)

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