Sandwich Tern Gives Fish to Wrong Mate!

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After my early May trip to Fort De Soto, I stopped at a Black Skimmer colony to see if the birds were settling in for the nest season. They were definitely congregating, but their colony wasn’t yet roped-off because they weren’t on eggs yet. I spotted a mixed flock of terns and skimmers down by the water and wandered down to say hello. I focused mostly on the Sandwich Terns because I don’t have many images of their courtship rituals.

The males were bringing in fish to impress their prospective mates…

Sandwich Tern with Fish
Sandwich Tern with Fish

On the ground, the females waited anxiously. Their calls took on a particular pitch as their partner approached…

Sandwich Tern Calling
Sandwich Tern Calling

After landing, the males presented the females with the fish. As you can see from the below photo, the birds require no privacy at all in these courtship rituals! (or the ones that sometimes follow if the fish is particularly yummy)

Sandwich Tern Fish Exchange
Sandwich Tern Fish Exchange

After so many happy hours photographing Least Tern courtship, it struck me that the Sandwich Terns find much bigger fish!

I wondered how the males identified their mates below. After all, the birds mostly look alike, and several of the females would call excitedly to attract the attention of the male overhead. It turns out that sometimes the males do get confused and try to give the fish to the wrong lady…

Sandwich Tern Fish Exchange
Sandwich Tern Fish Exchange

…and then when he realized his mistake, the two birds started to fight over the fish!

Sandwich Tern Fish Fight
Sandwich Tern Fish Fight

They fussed as the male yanked back the fish and tried to make off with it…

Sandwich Terns Fighting over Fish
Sandwich Terns Fighting over Fish

… but alas, the gulls usually win these kinds of fights!

The Laughing Gull was the final victor!

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!

Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!

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