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Least Tern Fish Exchanges

Recently I had a great time photographing Least Tern fish exchanges at North Beach at Fort De Soto.  After Michael and I wrapped up with the migrant songbirds, we headed to North Beach for some sunset light and shorebirds.  I was hoping that the Royal Terns would do an encore presentation, but they were nowhere to be found.  But even better, a pair of Least Terns was fishing in the lagoon area.  I’ve photographed Least Terns before, but usually after they have babies.  It was fun to photograph the courtship phase of their relationship.

Passing the Fish

Passing the Fish

One bird, I think the female, stood on the beach calling.  When she got really agitated, it was a clue that her mate was about to bring in a fish.  A few seconds and a couple of wing flaps later, the male was handing her the prize.  I’m not sure what kind of fish it was, but it seemed surprising big given that she swallows it whole!

Fish Face

Fish Face

I had to laugh when I saw this image on my screen.  Put on your Fish Face, everyone!  Look at how she throws her head back to maneuver the fish back into her mouth.  She’s preparing for the fatal gulp

Down the Hatch

Down the Hatch

Her mate didn’t wait around for her to swallow.  Before the fish disappeared down her throat, he was flying off to grab another fish.  They repeated this little ritual several times.  I was hoping they’d follow it up with a “piggyback ride” (yes, this is a family-friendly blog!)  But they didn’t.

Calling for the Fish

Calling for the Fish

The female would get pretty agitated as she waited for her next fish.  I should have taken a short video of her.  Most of my shots had her tongue out as she called to her mate.  (Does that sound familiar, Rich? :))

Wings Up!

Wings Up!

As the sun set, the light got warmer and prettier.  I snapped this image at just the right second, as the male took off after delivering his last fish.  I love the vertical wingspan.  It’s so exciting that shorebird nesting time is again here!  I hope to have the opportunity to photograph the Least Tern chicks again this year! :)

Want to know more about photographing at Fort De Soto?

Check out my Fort De Soto 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. Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!