Thursday, June 13, 2013

Terns Welcome on Isle One

Habitat for the Least Tern,  as described by Cornell Lab of Ornithology on All About Birds is “Seacoasts, beaches, bays, estuaries, lagoons, lakes and rivers, breeding on sandy or gravelly beaches and banks of rivers or lakes, rarely on flat rooftops of buildings.”  You can add to that the first of two artificial nesting platforms at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, especially designed and built by Refuge employees for the Least Tern.  Funding for the project was provided by Jetta Operating Company, Inc and the Nancy Ruth Fund.

The first of two artificial nesting platforms has been completed and  is in place.
The Least Tern, the smallest American Tern, is an 8 to 9 inch bird, with a black "crown" on the head, a snowy whiter underside and forehead, grayish back and wings, orange legs, and a yellow bill with a black tip.  Males and females are similar in their appearance.  The name “Interior” is attached to Least Terns who breed in isolated areas along the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Red, and Rio Grande river systems.  They  winter in coastal areas of Central and South America.

Interior Least Terns at HNWR, photographed by Eileen Sullivan in June, 2011
The Interior Least Tern is endangered due to loss of habitat, primarily because of changes in river systems and competition from recreational development. Terns arrive at the breeding ground in late spring – early summer and spend several months there.  Nesting in small colonies, Terns scratch out a shallow depression in sand or gravel for a nesting spot.  The female lays 2 – 3 eggs in  3 – 5 days.  Both parents take turns incubating the eggs for about 3 weeks. Chicks hatch one per day and leave the nest a few days after hatching but continue to be fed and cared for by adults.

Tern with chick, photographed at HNWR in 2009 by Dick Malnory
Terns feed on small fish and aquatic creatures and can be seen hovering and diving for prey, as well as skimming for insects.

Tern in flight, photographed by Mike Chiles
Terns usually return to the same nesting area year after year.  Hopefully the new platform at the Refuge will provide a safe nursery environment for a successful hatch this year.  At least two Terns have been photographed on the platform, to date.  For those who wish to check it out, the platform is located between “C” and “D” Pads.  And for the record, the one-legged Terns are decoys!

Nesting Tern, photographed at HNWR by Jack Chiles in 2011.

In addition to All About Birds, information for this post came from Texas Parks & Wildlife and from US Fish & Wildlife.

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