Rich’s Eureka Moment: Baby Least Terns!!

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If you’re a regular follower of my blog, you might have thought that my last post about the newborn baby Black Skimmers was a bit short. As if I’d stopped shooting just when the light got good. To finish the tale of that evening, I’ll pick up with the following text message from Rich:

Screenshot-2019-06-09-14.41.57

You see, I’d read that there was another colony of birds on that particular beach. Rich likes a nice walk in the evening, so I sent him to scout out the scene. It didn’t take him long to find the birds that distracted me until sunset…

Least Tern Chick
Least Tern Chick

Yep, Rich found a wonderful colony of Least Terns. I immediately lowered my tripod, plopped onto my stomach, and crawled in the sand until I found a good sun angle. The colony was small, but there were several chicks that were just a day or two old. So cute!!

Least Tern Babies on the Beach
Least Tern Babies on the Beach

Least Terns lay their eggs in small scrapes on the sand. They incubate the eggs for about three weeks, then tiny fuzzball start to hatch. For their first few days of life, they spend a lot of time cuddled under Mom. The above photo was a rare moment when Mom left the babies unattended for a few minutes. Their camouflage is incredible. They blend right in with the sand.

Least Tern Family: Baby Wing Stretch!
Least Tern Family: Baby Wing Stretch!

Mom came back to brood the chicks. The smaller one was content to hang out under her wing. The older chick wanted to go exploring. Look at that wing-stretch! He made a small circle around Mom before cuddling under her other wing. :)

Least Tern: Mother and Chick
Least Tern: Mother and Chick

There were chicks of all ages at this little colony. The little blond baby above is a few days older than the birds in the previous photos. He spent more time running around exploring…

Least Tern Chick
Least Tern Chick

The big babies are fun to watch as they explore the beach. But my favorites are the day-or-two chicks and their sweet interactions with their parents.

Least Tern Mom and Baby
Least Tern Mom and Baby

As the sun started to set, there was a flurry of activity as the adults prepared a bedtime snack. Tiny heads started to peek out from under Mom’s wings as Dad flew in with tiny fish. I bet it’s hard for the adults to find fish that small – and they are still almost as big as the smallest chicks!

Least Tern Family: Dinner Time for the Babies
Least Tern Family: Dinner Time for the Babies

For the tiniest chicks, the parents sometimes stand there for several minutes, dangling the fish in front of the baby. The baby will grab for it, drop it once or twice, and the parent patiently stands there and picks it up again. Then finally the baby gets the fish into his mouth and swallows it whole.

Least Tern Mom Feeding Baby
Least Tern Mom Feeding Baby

Farther back, an older chick was also enjoying his dinner. Except his fish were significantly larger, and he gulped them down as soon as his parent brought them in! It’s harder to photograph the feedings of the older chicks because they happen so quickly.

Least Terns: One of the Older Chicks
Least Terns: One of the Older Chicks

After dinner, the babies cuddled back under Mom’s wings for a nice safe night.

Least Terns: Under Mom's Wing
Least Terns: Under Mom’s Wing

It was hard to tear myself away as the light faded. Then I remembered the phone in my pocket and recorded a short video of the setting sun. You can see (and hear!) the terns diving for fish in the foreground. What a great afternoon!

Gulf Coast Sunset

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!

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