Beyond the BackyardMatanzas Tern Colony

Least Tern Chicks (from June)

A few weeks after photographing the Least Tern courtship rituals and dances, I returned to the Least Tern colony to see if there were any babies.  There were!  It was a rainy morning, with the sun coming in and out from behind the clouds.  The sand was hot as I laid down with my tripod after spotting the first objects of my visit…tiny Least Tern chicks!

Tiny Sisters
Tiny Sisters

The Least Tern chicks are so cute!  The parents nest in tiny scrapes on the beach.  A small indentation and Mom’s careful shelter – that’s all the protection that these little guys get on the beach.  They are born with pale white and black fuzz, which helps them blend in on the beach when Mom’s away.  I was thrilled to get a shot of them sitting alone.

Least Tern and Chick
Least Tern and Chick

Most of the time, chicks that are a day or two old stay under Mom.  I lay still for over half an hour watching the scene above.  Occasionally a chick would wiggle.  But it was so cool to spend time with these birds, and watch the incredible patience of the parents as they took care of their babies.

Mom, I Want To Tell You A Secret...
Mom, I Want To Tell You A Secret…

A little way down the beach, a chick wiggled out from under Mom and stood next to her.  He was so tiny! Photographers often do “beach cleanup” with Photoshop at this location, but I actually like the shells in the foreground.  They show relative size of the birds.  The Least Terns are the smallest terns, and the chicks are just a little bigger than a shell!

Double Yawn
Double Yawn

Apparently it’s tiring to bake on the beach all day!  The sand is incredibly hot, and the chicks love to stay in the shadow of Mom’s wing.  Then everybody perks up with the approach of Dad, with a nice fresh fish for breakfast!  Mom and Baby call out a welcome as Dad flies in.

Family Meal
Family Meal

Surprise!  Sometimes there are two chicks under Mom, and they both pop out when a fish comes in.  I love the hopeful expressions on both chicks’ faces as Dad offers the fish.  Both babies were so sure that they were going to get it.  Eventually Dad gave it to the one on the left.

First Poop?
First Poop!

The rains eventually came and I had to leave.  But before I did, I got to see one of life’s special little gifts. Yep, the chick’s first poop! :)