Tag Archives: semi-precocial

WHAT’S FOR BREAKFAST MAMA?

To and fro, to and fro, flying from the branches of the majestic old oak tree to the garden beds below, and then into the thickest part of the small shrub at the edge of the vegetable garden, then back to the sheltering oak above, a pair of Chipping Sparrow parents tirelessly fed their hungry brood of tiny hatchlings. Chipping cheer-a-ree cheer-a-roo all the while, despite a beak overflowing with worms, and every kind of larvae you can imagine.

Chipping Sparrows are easily identified with their rufous red beret-like cap and cheery chipping. Massachusetts is part of their northern breeding range. Come fall they will begin to flock together and migrate to the southern US and Mexico. Chipping Sparrows were once more of a woodland species but today, they have become well-adapted to human habitats and nest in gardens, parks, and farmlands.

Like all song birds, Chipping Sparrow young are altricial, which means they hatch semi-undeveloped and are blind, naked, and helpless, needing constant care and feeding by the parents. Species of Plovers, such as Piping Plovers and Killdeers are precocial. They are fully mobile and can feed themselves within hours after hatching. The adults are needed to keep them warm and to protect the chicks from predators. Birds in the tern and gull family, such as Least Terns, are semi-precocial. They hatch with their eyes open, are covered with downy fluff, can walk (and in some cases swim) but must be fed by the parents.

Chipping Sparrow Nestlings

New Short Film: The Uncommon Common Tern

What fun to encounter a small flock of terns teaching its young to fish. Nearly as large as the adults, the tubby terns cheekily squawk and demand food (shrimp I think in this case). Watch as the fledglings try to master fishing skills while the adults tirelessly guide the young on how to feed themselves.

With many thanks to Paul St. Germain, president of the Thacher Island Association, for information about the ongoing restoration of shorebirds on Thacher Island.common-tern-fledgling-feeding-copyright-kim-smith

There is nothing common about the uncommon Common Tern. They were named Common because hundreds of thousands formerly nested along the Atlantic Coast. As with many species of shorebirds, the rage for wearing fancy feathered hats during the 1800s nearly drove these exquisite “swallows of the sea” to extinction. After the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was ratified in 1918, terns began to recover.

A second major setback occurred when in the 1970s open landfills were closed, displacing thousands of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. The aggressive and highly adaptable gulls resettled to offshore nesting sites used by terns.

Common Terns are a Species of Special Concern in Massachusetts. Through a statewide long-term commitment of restoration, protection, and management of nesting colonies, the populations are very slowly and gradually increasing.

Former nesting sites include islands such as Cape Ann’s Thacher Island. During the mid 1950s, over 1,125 pairs of Arctic, Common, and Roseate Terns nested on Thacher Island. Today there are none.

The southern side of Thacher Island is owned by the Thacher Island Association. The northern end of Thacher Island is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the authority of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. These organizations are working together to restore terns and other species of birds to Thacher Island.