Birdwatching on Danish Zealand: Remembering a Sandwich Tern, at Hamlet’s Castle

Birdwatching on Danish Zealand:

Remembering a Sandwich Tern, at Hamlet’s Castle

 ~By James J. S. Johnson

Photo taken from
(Photo taken from )

This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD. (Psalm 102:18)

Sandwich Tern

(picture taken from

The SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sanvicensis) is, as its name suggests, a member of the “tern” [Sternidae] family of seagulls.  (The term “Sandwich” refers to Sandwich, in Kent, western England, where this tern was formally identified in AD1787 by ornithologist-physician John Latham, MD.)

The Sandwich Tern is medium-to-large in size (for a tern), with a fairly large head (for a tern), a long thin bill, and a relatively short tail.   It may grow to 16 inches in length and 36 inches in wingspan (!), so it is obviously designed for aerodynamic flight – well-fitted for flying above its oceanic and coastland habitats.  Its thin bill is black, with a “butter-yellow” tip.  The Sandwich Tern is mostly white, appearing whiter (especially from a distance) than the Common Tern and Arctic Tern; it has greyish-white wings and (top) tail feathers.  The newer feathers, produced according to the tern’s molting cycle, are more greyish in color. The top and back of its flat-crowned head is black.  It has short black legs.

Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) ©Rafy Rodriguez

Sandwich Terns are sociable, nesting in densely packed colonies, sometimes mixed with other terns and small seagulls. [See Chris Kightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), page 150.]

Some consider the Cabot’s Tern of North America, which winters in and near the Caribbean (including Florida), as a close cousin of the Sandwich Tern.


Photo taken from

The Sandwich Tern’s summer range is predominantly coastal – not surprising for a tern, with its most populous summer range includes various coastal shores of the British Isles (England, Scotland, Orkney, Hebrides, Ireland — but not Wales), Holland (where it is called Grote stern), and Denmark (where it is called Splitterne), especially from late March through early October.  (Sandwich Terns are known to winter in various coastal areas of North Africa.)

Besides those coastlands, the Sandwich Tern is also known as a summer visitor in parts of France (where it is called Sterne caugek), Estonia, Belgium, and Germany (where it is called Brandseeschwalbe).  Its migratory travels allow it to be observed in other countries as well, such as Poland (breeding), Sweden (where it is called Kentsk tärna – often seen where Sweden almost touches Denmark), Norway (as a “vagrant”), Spain’s Mediterranean coast, and even northeastern Italy.  [See Roger Tory Peterson, Guy Mountfort, & P. A. D. Hollom, A FIELD GUIDE TO BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND EUROPE, 5th edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993), page 134 & Range Map 174.]

SandwichTern - Cemlyn Lagoon Anglesy

SandwichTern – Cemlyn Lagoon Anglesy

[ photo taken from ]

Like other terns (and gulls and fulmars, etc.), Sandwich Terns enjoy eating fish! Sandwich Terns catch their piscatorial repast by plunge-diving into the ocean.  (Occasionally they frequent lakes and ponds near coastlines, so lacustrine fish are also vulnerable to terns who elect to “go fishing” there.)

Sandwich Tern ©Jürgen Reich

Sandwich Tern ©Jürgen Reich

[Photo taken from ]

In addition to the shorelands of the British Isles, some parts of the Baltic Sea’s western coastline also host Sandwich Terns in the summer – including the shores at and near “Hamlet’s Castle” in Helsingør, in eastern Denmark.  In fact, it was at “Hamlet’s Castle” where I saw a Sandwich Tern on the 4th of July in AD2006.

Medieval castle at Helsingør (on the island of Zealand)

Medieval castle at Helsingør (on the island of Zealand)

Photo from

Why is the medieval castle at Helsingør (on the island of Zealand, at the narrowest part of the strait of Øresund, which strait separated Denmark and Sweden), built back in the AD1420s (by the Kalmar Union triple-crown king, Eirik, “king of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, king of the Wends and the Goths, and Duke of Pomerania”), called “Hamlet’s Castle”?

“Shakespeare brought Kronborg Slot [i.e., Kronborg Castle] world renown as the [fictional] backdrop of his ‘HAMLET’.  Most of the magnificent Renaissance castle, which has had its present appearance since 1585, is accessible to the public.”  [Quoting Reinhard Ilg, JOURNEY THROUGH DENMARK (Stürtz, 2002; translation by Faith Gibson Tegethoff; photos by Tina Herzig & Horst Herzig), page 46.]

Kronborg Castle

Kronborg Castle

[ photo taken from ]

In Shakespeare’s famous play, HAMLET, the fundamental question of life is asked, “To be, or not to be?”  This is a fundamental question for every human being, yet it was beforehand a fundamental question that was considered and decided by God Himself, when He chose to give each one of us the lives we call our own.  Why?  While Shakespeare’s character Hamlet considered the grave question of whether to end his earthly existence with the famous words “to be, or not to be”, the choice even more basic than that was God’s sovereign decision to create us “to be” in the first place! [See, regarding this great question of life, considered with Psalm 102:18, .

Just as the Lord chose to imagine and invent the maritime birds that we call Sandwich Terns, of His own beneficent and sovereign volition, He chose to imagine and invent us, as the specific (and unique) humans who each one of us is.  What a choice God made, when He did so!

And, knowing that we needed redemption, as human sinners descended from Adam, God also foresaw the need for the Lord Jesus Christ to be our Redeemer – so He planned for Christ’s Messiahship – long before we ever were created as the individuals we are  (John 17:24;  Ephesians 1:4;  1st Peter 1:20)all wonderful Bible verses, that Bob Webel taught me as a teenager!).

It is God’s providential grace and kindness that He chose to make us.  It is even more grace and kindness that He provided redemption in Christ to save us!   How should we then live, to appreciate Him for Who He isthat is the question, that (by God’s grace) our lives must daily answer!

This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD. (Psalm 102:18)



James J. S. Johnson

People Yet To Be Created

Sandwich Terns – All About Birds

Sandwich Tern – Wikipedia


Please leave a Comment. They are encouraging.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s