Now Entering Tern Territory
Hi Everyone! I have a pretty fun story for you this week!
Robert invited me to join him out on Salt Works to take a look at all the Elegant Terns that were nesting there. I hadn’t been out to Salt Works since training! It was weird being there without piling into the van and practicing shorebird identification with all the other interns.
As we parked, Robert informed me that some of the birds could get aggressive, mainly the Black Skimmers, Gull-billed Terns, and Caspian Terns and they have been known to try and bodyslam you or spear you with their bills. This was news to me! While the idea of getting tackled by a bird gave me a laugh, people have been sent to the hospital with tern related injuries. Also, the Forster’s Terns will try to and poop on you, even aiming it through the windows of your car as your drive by. So, the terns have plenty of tools in their arsenal to let you know that they don’t like you. Other then a couple of Royal Terns flying very close to me and yelling in my face, I avoided any terns that may have tried to cause me bodily harm.
As we parked and walked out onto one of the dykes, the squawks became deafening as thousands of Terns nested and flew through the air above our heads. As we walked through, we made sure that the birds settled back down onto their nests. If they don’t, the opportunistic gulls that lurk nearby will go in and start eating the eggs. Thus, our nest counting and marking had to be quick and efficient without causing too much of a disturbance to the birds. Another fact about Elegant Terns are that they are very social birds and nesters, which means if they see another bird nesting, they’ll be like, “I want to nest right next to you!” This can cause other species like Gull-billed Terns to abandon their nests or for eggs to be knocked out of nests or trampled.
It was great getting to go out and see all the different nests of all the Terns that breed in San Diego, it was quite different from my normal Snowy Plover and Least Tern surveys. I’m super appreciative of this experience as there are only 5 places in the world where Elegant Terns nest and being able to see 1 was super cool!
Also common out on Salt Works are the easily identifiable Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets. Their nests are pretty similar and their egg shape and color are nearly identical, so it can be hard to differentiate between the two.
Welp, that’s the story for this week. See y’all nest week! (that was a pun, not a typo) 🙂