Bird Spotlight: The Beauty of the Royal Tern

The Royal Tern is an interesting bird, as it’s only found along the coastal beaches. This bird is a large tern, with pale grey upperparts, a white face, neck and underparts. The head has a spiky black crest and cap and features a bright orange bill. The wings have black tips on them and the tail is deeply forked. The bird is completed with black feet and legs and makes for a unique species that spends its time along the Gulf Coast.

The Royal Tern thrives off warm areas with water, so they don’t go far when it comes to breeding. These birds are known to breed along the coast from Maryland to Texas and tend to wander further south during the summer. During the winter months, Royal Terns spend their time in North Carolina to California. These birds prefer saltwater habitats such as the Gulf Coast. Interestingly, a complete black cap is held during breeding, but only for a brief period.

Young Royal Terns differ very little from the adults, except that they are smaller and paler, with uneven patterns of dark spotting. These youngsters are quite independent, as they leave the nest within one day of hatching. They congregate together in special groups, which can be filled with thousands of chicks that are anywhere from 2 to 35 days old.

Even though these young chicks congregate together, their parents can find them in the crowd by recognizing their call. This is a good thing, considering Royal Tern parents will only feed their young. More interestingly is that adults will defecate directly on the rim of their nests, which are constructed along low-lying islands on the ground. It’s suggested that this is done in order reinforce the nest, not as a territorial behavior. After the nest rim hardens thanks to the defecation, it will be sturdier against flooding, which is common in these low-lying, coastal areas.

If you wander along the Gulf Coast, you’ll probably see a Royal Tern or two. These birds feed off shrimp and fish and will plunge into the water to eat their meals. The population in the U.S. is stable, with no indications of the species becoming threatened.

Source: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/royal_tern/lifehistory http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/500/overview/Royal_Tern.aspx

Image Source: prometheus.med.utah.edu

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