On July 4th I headed to the beach to check on my Least Tern chicks. It had been a couple of weeks, and I knew that my cute little puffballs would have grown almost to full size and be celebrating their own independence. When I arrived, though, I was surprised. I found only one fledgling! Most of the terns were still hanging around the colony, but they didn’t care that I was there. So I laid down on my stomach and photographed the one fledgling.
It’s amazing how quickly the babies grow up! The fledgling is almost as big as Mom. His feathers have already changed to resemble those of his parents, although the juvie has more brown and black speckles on his back. For comparison’s sake, I photoshopped a picture of the juvenile with a photo I’d taken of a chick just a few weeks before. Look at the difference!
In the hours spent lying on the sand, I did spot one other chick running around at the back of the colony. This bird was probably about a week old. His mom flew in occasionally with a fish, but for the most part, he spent most of the morning by himself. I loved the “bird in the environment” feel of this photo. You can see how well the baby blends in with the beach.
Right in front of me, the fledgling was getting lots of attention from Mom. It takes a lot of fish to keep a growing bird fed! I learned to focus on Junior and listen for his excited calls when he spotted Mom flying in.
He’d dance like this for about a second or two before Mom arrived. Then she’d land, hand off the fish, he’d gulp it down, and Mom would fly off in about a split second. It’s very different than the tiny chicks’ protracted attempts to swallow a whole fish.
This hungry juvie seemed like he could basically take care of himself, with one minor technicality – he hadn’t yet figured out how to use those wings! I have a feeling that he was within a few days of soaring over the ocean to find his food all by himself.
A year-old bird kept walking around Junior to offer him a fish. I think the older bird was practicing courtship behaviors and didn’t understand why the weeks-old bird wasn’t responding. Our Junior only took food from Mom! At one point, Mom flew in with a fish for Junior and had to chase off the year-old suitor. I had to chuckle when I realized I had a shot of both birds with fish in their mouths.
This was my last visit to the Least Tern colony this year. It was a spectacular year!
Want to learn more about nature photography at Matanzas Tern Colony?
Check out my Matanzas Tern Colony 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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