The weekend after I returned from Maine, my dad and I drove to Indian Rocks Beach to check on the Black Skimmer colony. We found that most of the eggs laid after Tropical Storm Andrea had hatched, and the colony was full of tiny newborn Black Skimmer chicks. They are so cute!!
My friend Debbie from south Florida drove up to see the skimmers, too, and we had a blast watching the little babies. Almost every scrape had one or two chicks, and a couple had three little guys. You could tell that some of them were newborns, still slightly wet from the egg.
The adults brought in fish after fish to feed their young offspring. Each time a new fish was brought in, a flurry of wings ensued. Which family was the fish for? The adult didn’t always seem to know which kids were his! Then he’d be chased by all the neighboring chicks, who all wanted the fish. After he located his own family, he had to select which chick got the fish. The biggest one were always the most demanding, and the adults had to work hard to isolate their younger babies in order to feed them.
It was hard to believe that the babies could eat the huge fish that their parents kept bringing in! Some of the fish were literally bigger than the babies themselves. We joked that the adults needed to learn to make “chick fillets.” But the babies didn’t seem to realize that their eyes were (literally) bigger than their stomachs…
We watched one adult run around with a fish near his three chicks for several minutes, trying to feed the littlest guy of his brood. After he finally managed to chase off his older bully-babies, the little guy started to work on the fish. He got it into his mouth, then threw back his head, and he tried and tried to swallow it. He almost had it down when his parent came back and yanked it out of his mouth! Debby cracked me up when she burst out, “But I’ve already masticated it!!!”
Most of the fish that were brought in were needlefish. The adults would toss them around to “tenderize” them before passing them to the babies. I laughed when I reviewed my images and saw that I’d gotten one fish in mid-toss! You can see the baby waiting in the background for his dinner.
The babies had to work so hard to get the fish down. Often you’d see them lie on the sand, with the fish tail still hanging out of their mouths, as they worked up the energy for the final gulp. Poor little guys! I guess their parents’ beaks aren’t exactly made for breaking up fish into chick fillets. But you’d think they could bring in smaller fish!
Often it seemed that the dad would bring the fish in, and the mom would stand by watching as the chicks tried to eat. Sometimes, though, the mom would seem to say, “hand it on over” to the dad. Then she’d make sure that the babies ate. I thought the above capture was funny, passing the fish over the chick’s head. His expression seems a little dubious to me…. “Mom, you don’t really expect me to eat that, do you?!”
As the sun went down, the colony was bathed in gorgeous golden light. The babies yawned, exhausted after their dinners!
Want to learn more about nature photography at Black Skimmer Colonies?
Check out my Black Skimmer Colonies page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
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