Tag Archives: #ShareThe Shore

Two-Day-Old Least Tern Chicks

Clamoring for dinner, feed Me, feed Me!

In only one day’s time, you can see the teeny shorebirds gaining strength. As Dad approaches with dinner, the two-day-old Least Tern chicks stretch and flap their wings and open wide their beaks. The noisiest and flappiest is fed first. After depositing a minnow in one beak, off he flies to find dinner for the second sibling.

Camouflaged

The polka-dot fluff balls blend perfectly with the surrounding sand and rocks. The brilliant red inside the chicks mouth makes it easier for the adult terns to find them against the monochromatic pebbly beach habitat.

Waiting for dinner.

The tern parents will share feeding their chicks and fledglings non-stop for weeks; the chicks won’t be on their own for another two months.

For the first several days after hatching, Least Tern chicks keep fairly close to Mom in scooped out scrapes and natural divots in the sand, or well-hidden hidden behind rocks and beach vegetation.Tiny Least Tern Chick camouflaged in the sand, flanked by an adult Least Tern and Piping Plover male passing by (right).

The Rosetti’s Piping Plover fledglings (three) sharing the nesting site with the Least Tern Rosetti’s family.

Least Tern One Day Old Chicks!

The Rosetti’s Least Terns hatched both eggs and both are chicks are doing beautifully!

Least Tern eggs are astonishingly well camouflaged on a pebbly beach, making them nearly impossible to see. It’s easy to understand why the species is threatened, and in some regions, endangered. Least Terns nest on sandy beaches with little vegetation, the same type of beach habitat that people love. Piping Plovers and Least Terns often nest in association with each other. In Massachusetts, the Least Tern is considered a Species of Special Concern.

Mom and Dad Least Terns take turns brooding the eggs. Here they are changing places. Least Terns are monogamous and the Rosetti’s Least Terns are especially good parents.

Least Terns are semi-precocial. Like Piping Plovers, which are fully precocial, Least Terns are mobile after one or two days and can leave the nest.

Unlike Piping Plovers, they cannot feed themselves and will be fed for the next eight weeks by Mom and Dad, a diet consisting mostly of tiny fish.

Tiny minnows, for tiny chicks. Dad does most of the feeding while Mom mostly broods the babies during the first few days. As the nestlings grow, the parents feed the chicks increasingly larger fish.

First day venturing away from the nest, and then returning to Mom for warmth and protection.

Just as the eggs are perfectly camouflaged, so too are the tiny nestlings.

Almost as adorable as are Piping Plover chicks are Least Tern chicks. However, they are much, much harder to film and to photograph. Least Terns are shyer of humankind than are Piping Plovers. Anyone who has seen PiPl in action know that they have a high tolerance for people and may come right up to you especially if you are standing perfectly still and are perfectly quiet. Least Terns on the other hand are elusive and skittish. The nestlings quickly take cover behind a rock or clump of beach vegetation when disturbed. The Mom and Dad when both courting and nesting will let you know if you are too close by dive bombing and if you still can’t take a hint, will poop on your head. If either happens, then you know for sure you are way too close and are interfering with the chicks feeding. Back away and observe from a more considerate (considerate-to-the-Terns distance that is).

Unfortunately, I recently observed a fellow photographer repeatedly being dive-bombed by a nesting pair of Terns, and that person has a humongously long telephoto lens. She would have gotten perfectly lovely photos from a distance more respectful of the Terns.

Fishing For Sex

FISHING FOR SEX

Or is it Sex for Fish? –The Quid Pro Quo Courtship of the Least Tern

While learning more about Piping Plovers on North Shore beaches I happened to be on Winthrop Shore Beach on an afternoon in May when dozens and dozens of Least Terns were pairing up in an elaborate dance of courtship and mating. It was fascinating to observe their courtship feeding and I was so curious to learn more.

That very same afternoon, the “Rosetti’s” Piping Plovers were mating, too. Well known to the area is a pair of Plovers that nest every year directly in front of Café Rosetti’s, a fabulous Italian restaurant located on the main boulevard that runs along the beach. The Rosetti’s Plovers are very successful and each year they fledge a clutch of chicks. This year was no exception!

For the past several months I have been documenting through film and photographs the Rosetti’s Plovers and the Rosetti’s Terns, along with a family of PiPl at Revere Beach (more about the Winthrop and Revere Beach’s PiPl in future posts). Both species of birds are on the state and federal threatened species list. Piping Plovers and Least Terns began nesting on the area’s urban beaches as a direct result of the Boston Harbor cleanup, a wonderful, and very surprising to all involved, turn of events. In some regions, both species share the same habitat, as is the case with Winthrop Shore Reservation.

The more we learn about how and why Plovers (and other species of threatened shorebirds) successfully nest on other north of Boston much loved and much utilized beaches, the more we can help our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers successfully nest in years to come.

During the breeding season Least Terns perform courtship displays in the air and on the ground. In dramatic aerial display, a fish-carrying male is chased by the female, sometimes up to four females.

On the ground, the male parades his fish to a prospective mate. With fish dangling from his bill, he bobs his head from side-to side, then opens and closes his wings over the female.

The male mounts the female, still with fish dangling. During copulation he passes the fish to the female.

The funniest thing is, when the female allows the male to mount, she sometimes snatches the fish and flies away before mating has occurred.

No privacy, and lots of piracy!

The male continues to feed the female throughout the incubation period. Both parents incubate the eggs however, the female does about eighty percent of the brooding, while the male provides most of the fish for she and the chicks.

When one adult Least Tern feeds another, whether during courtship when the pair are first becoming established, or during the incubation period, this behavior is called “courtship feeding.”

The courtship feeding display perhaps provide the female tern the assurance that her male mate will be a good provider of fish for both she and the young. Both male and female Least Terns feed the chicks for the first several months after hatching; the better the fisherman, the stronger the chicks. Studies have shown too that courtship feeding provides the female with considerable nutritional benefit. The number of eggs, and weight of the eggs, are determined by the female’s nutritional status and how much food is fed her by her mate.

In Massachusetts, Least Terns primarily eats fish, including Sand Lance, Herring, and Hake. They also eat insects and crustaceans.

And we have a nest, with two eggs!

Read more about Winthrop Shore Reservation here.

Winthrop Shore Reservation Nesting Bird Observers

OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH KILLDEER PLOVER CHICKS!

You may recall that several weeks back we posted a photo of a Killdeer nest with four eggs. I only discovered the nest because each and every time anyone walked past, a Killdeer would call shrilly and drag its wings through the dunes in a dramatic display of “broken wing” trickery. I would often play along and see how far away the Killdeer would take me until one morning I decided to see what it was they were hiding.

Killdeer Broken Wing Distraction Display

Off to the side of the path that leads to the beach, not more than six feet away, was a loose scrape of dirt and sticks, with four perfect Killdeer eggs!

I had no idea when they had been laid, so there was no way of knowing when the chicks would hatch. Each morning on my way to check on the Piping Plovers I’d take a peak, until one day there weren’t any. How sad I thought, and wondered if a predator had eaten the eggs. But the nest had not been disturbed and there were no broken egg shells. A mystery.

The following morning I checked on the Piping Plover nest in the parking lot. It was drizzly but there were two Killdeers near to where the PiPl exclosure is located. I sat in my car watching the adult Killdeers when to my delight and amazement, out tumbled four teeny chicks from under Mama Killdeer. A car makes the perfect blind and for quite some time I photographed and filmed the Killdeer family.

Off and on during that rainy day I stopped by to check on the Killdeers. Because of the weather, the parking lot was virtually empty. Tiny tufted black, brown, and white feather balls atop overly long spindly legs, the baby birds spent all their time zooming here and there, foraging on itsy bitty insects in the grass and gravel.

When not foraging, they would run under Mom or Dad to warm up on that damp drizzly day. Just like Piping Plover chicks, Killdeer chicks are precocial birds and can feed themselves within hours after hatching however, because they are so tiny, they lose body heat relatively quickly. The chicks need the warmth provided by snuggling under Mom and Dad.

The next morning it was still drizzling, and the Killdeer family was still in the same location! I watched them for a bit, when a man showed up with his dog. The Killdeer parents went into high alert and did their best distraction displays. The dog chased the adult Killdeers around the parking lot while I spoke with the man. It is the same man who brings his dog to Good Harbor Beach via the footbridge end at the close of the day, after the lifeguards and dog officers have left. This was a tremendous problem last year after the Piping Plovers hatched. Last summer I was too busy preventing his dog from squashing a PiPl chick to get his license plate number, but not this time. The man and his dog left the parking lot.

Moving to the marsh

Shortly after the dog encounter, both Killdeer parents led the chicks into the marsh. To see the chicks navigate over the incline at the edge of the marsh was amazing; it must have seemed like fording a mountain to them. I’ve looked but have not seen the family since. I am hoping that they are thriving and growing in the marshland.

We don’t hear as much about Killdeer Plovers because they are not an endangered species. Killdeers are found in every state of the continental US, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America. They are the least shorebird-like of shorebirds because they breed and dwell in many types of habitats including grasslands, fields, urban areas, gravel pits, airports, parking lots, athletic fields, and golf courses. Despite their super ability to adapt to human habitats, it is a species in decline.

Killdeers begin courting in our area in March. Although I imagine they have been nesting at Good Harbor Beach for a longer period of time, I only have a record of Killdeers nesting at GHB going back three years and it is yet another important reason as to why humans and pets should not be traipsing through the dunes.

It is difficult to tell the difference between a male and female Killdeer unless they are side-by-side, and even then, still challenging. The male is a bit larger.