Least Terns Nesting at Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area

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I have never seen so many Least Terns nesting in one place before. At the Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area, they covered the entire south end of the beach. Everywhere I looked, I could see birds – eggs in their tiny indents in the sand, adults courting, moms sitting on eggs and dads bringing in fish, little babies scurrying across the sand. It was wonderful! :)

Least Tern Chick Swallowing Fish
Least Tern Chick Swallowing Fish

It’s amazing to watch the babies swallowing fish. The adults work hard to find tiny fish, and even so, the fish are almost as big as the babies themselves. Yet after the first day or so, the babies become adept at swallowing the fish in one fast gulp!

Not only was this the biggest tern colony I’d seen, it also had the most skittish birds. Parents would dive-bomb me at farther distances than I remembered from the St. Augustine colony. The babies were very proficient at dropping to the sand to “become invisible” at the least amount of motion. All over the beach, the chicks sought the refuge of beach vegetation, both for shade and for protection. Looking for them was like playing a game of hide-and-seek.

Least Tern Chicks: Hide and Seek!
Least Tern Chicks: Hide and Seek!

The colony was roped off for the protection of the birds, but the birds don’t understand the purpose of those ropes. They nest wherever they want. I was careful to watch for eggs as I walked around the beach.

Least Tern Eggs
Least Tern Eggs

Most of the chicks were three to seven days old. When they did come out from under cover, they were adorable…

Least Tern
Least Tern Chick

…especially as they learned to flap their wings! They do these little hop-skip-jump routines that are combined with wing-flaps that are especially fun to capture as the little birds run towards the camera.

Least Tern Chick Wing-Stretch
Least Tern Chick Wing-Stretch

As the sun set, the parents brought in the last fish, and the chicks settled in under Mom for the night. It was precious. I can’t wait to go back!

Least Terns: Mother and Chick
Least Terns: Mother and Chick

Want to learn more about nature photography at Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area?

Check out my Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area 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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