Beyond the BackyardMatanzas Tern Colony

Least Tern Courtship

After photographing the sunrise in St. Augustine in early May, I headed to the Least Tern colony for my first visit of the year.  I knew that it was the right time of the year to watch their courtship fish exchanges.  Last year I had a magical morning on the beach photographing the terns, and one of my images was commended in the Denver Audubon Society photo contest.

My first visit this year was awesome, despite the lack of light.  The weather forecast was for 30% cloudcover, but it was more like 90%!  When I first arrived at the beach, I found a very cooperative pair of birds that was in full courtship mode.

Least Tern Fish Courtship
Least Tern Fish Courtship

The male flew in with a fish, and the female was calling to him, making sure he knew that she was interested.  He dangled the fish in her face, but when she reached up to grab it, he’d snatch it away!

Fish Tease
Fish Tease

They did this several times, not minding as I crawled closer with my camera.  The female seemed to get more impatient each time she tried to grab the fish.

The Snatch
The Snatch

Finally the male hopped on her back and gave her the fish.  “It’s about time!”, she yelled at him.  Of course they turned away from me for the fish exchange.  They need a few lessons in posing for a bird photographer. :)

The Exchange
The Exchange

Maybe she punished him for being such a slowpoke.  The next thing I knew, the male was trying to hang on as the female ran away.  Oops!

Runaway!
Runaway!

I saw several similar fish exchanges in the hour or so that I roamed the beach that morning.  Here’s a video of a couple doing their fish dance.  They were interrupted by a gull overhead that startled the whole colony.

Some birds in the colony were already on eggs.  The incubation time is about three weeks, and then tiny fuzzballs will start showing up on the beach.  The babies are so cute!

Juvie Least Tern
Juvie Least Tern

A juvenile Least Tern stood nearby watching all the commotion.  I wonder if he is one of the babies that I photographed last year.

Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper

I saw a few Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones at the water’s edge, and then I noticed this Semipalmated Sandpiper, who had stopped on the Florida beach on his migration path north.  He was a nice find as I said goodbye to the terns and headed to my final stop of the morning, which you can read about in my next post.

2 thoughts on “Least Tern Courtship

  1. You got some great shots here Jess!
    I have to laugh, because when I shoot the burrowing owls, I always wonder if I ever shoot the adults that were once photographed as young owlets. :-)
    Hope to see you soon.

  2. Terrific series! Since you’ve photographed adults courting, breeding, incubating and raising chicks at the same location, it seems logical the juvie HAS to be one you already shot. (Well, logical to me, anyhow!)

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