“A Graceful Tern”
Photo Credit: Kevin Shakespeare
South Island, New Zealand (on the East Coast)
- Order: Charadriiformes
- Family: Sternidae
- Genus: Sterna
- Species: Striata
Off the East Coast of New Zealand’s main land, we find the White-Fronted Tern or Tara (Sterna Striata), the most common Tern in New Zealand. There are 33 species of Tern in the world, and 6 of them breed in New Zealand. Adults are mostly pale grey or white, with a long black bill, black or reddish black feet, a black cap that runs just below the eyes (leaving a small white strip above the bill), and a sharply forked white tail. Despite it’s webbed feet, this bird rarely swims (except while bathing). Like all Terns, they fly with their head and bill pointing down to see their prey. In flight, they are very acrobatic; a small body and slim wings gives them great maneuverability. Breeding is done in large colonies between October and January on the rocky cliffs and offshore islands of New Zealand. In the autumn months, a substantial number of adolescent Terns and some adults fly to winter in Australia, but return in the spring for breeding. The call of this Tern is a high pitched ‘siet’, repeated irregularly, most often when they are in flight.
This particularly “Graceful Tern” has caught a fish! White-Fronted Terns feed in large flocks by plunge diving like missiles into the ocean below. Shoals of smelt and pilchards are driven to the surface by larger fish, and the prey is caught between a cross fire of feeding frenzies. Scooping these fish out of the Ocean without alighting requires a great deal of skill, and parents must feed their young for several months so they have time to perfect the art. The White-fronted Tern is highly gregarious when feeding, roosting, and breeding. Colonies can contain upwards of several thousand pairs! Generally, though, we find 50-200 pairs, and occasionally only a few. Pairs are monogamous, and courting behavior often includes the male delivering a fish to the female crosswise in his bill, as if to show off his prowess. Perhaps this little guy has a gift for his potential mate 🙂
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