Nature's Air Show

A favorite sighting on our paddles is that of the terns plunge feeding on small fish.

As the temperatures warm and the marsh grasses begin to green-up we enjoy watching the return of many migratory birds. A favorite sighting on our paddles is that of the terns plunge feeding on small fish. Terns are seabirds that can be found worldwide near oceans, rivers, and wetlands. They are a subgroup of the Laridae family which also includes gulls and skimmers. On Ayers Creek we typically see Least Tern and Forster’s Tern. Least Terns are the smallest of the terns, weighing in at only 1 oz and approximately 9 inches in length. Forster's Tern are about 12 – 14 inches long with a long forked tail and they sport a full black cap and bright bill during breeding season. While similar in appearance the larger Forster’s Tern exhibits a primarily white underside and orange bill.  The Least Tern (pictured) sports a yellow bill, white forehead, and black edges on the outer wing feathers.

Both the Least Tern and Forster’s Tern prefer to feed on fish. When they are hunting, they fly looking downward with their bill in a vertical direction. When the spot a fish they often hover for a moment before plunging down to grab their prey.

Terns are colonial birds and nest in noisy colonies. The Least Tern typically nests in a small scrape directly on the sand. During courtship the male presents the female with a fish. It is very entertaining to watch this ritual and see how many attempts the male must make before the female accepts the fish.  Least Terns are a species of concern due to the loss of breeding habitat on sandbars and beaches.

The Forester’s Tern prefers to nest in the marsh. The Forster's Tern build elaborate floating nests in salt marshes. The nests are constructed of dry marsh grass capable of floating the tern and her young. The nest is contained in the marsh interior by surrounding vegetation preventing it from drifting into open water. When the tide rises, the nest floats to accommodate the higher water within the wetland system.

Come on out for a paddle on Ayers Creek and enjoy an air show courtesy of the terns.



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