Bird of the Week – Antarctic Tern

Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata) by Ian (1)

Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata) by Ian (1)

Bird of the Week – Antarctic Tern ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 8-28-12

I’ve been adding photos from the recent Hong Kong, Finland, Ireland trip to the website and have encountered a few that are also on the Australian list such as the Arctic Tern. That was my initial choice for this week’s bird until I changed it to the closely related but lesser known Antarctic Tern as I took some photos of it on the Sub-Antarctic Islands trip last November that I would like to share. It is also on the Australian list and breeds at Macquarie and Heard Islands, though it is regarded as a very rare vagrant to the mainland.

We first encountered them at Snares, on the day after leaving Dunedin, first photo. Snares is a nature reserve and we weren’t allowed to land there but, as you can judge from the photo, weather conditions were good and we could get very close to some of the birds and mammals in the Zodiacs. This bird is in breeding plumage and the coral red bill and leg colour is sufficient to distinguish it from the similar breeding Common and Arctic Terns, both of which spend the northern winter in the southern hemisphere. These two breed in the northern hemisphere in the northern summer and both the time of the year and the location are also sufficient circumstantial evidence to eliminate birds of those species in breeding plumage. Apart from that, there are other subtler differences relating to size, plumage and proportions with the Antarctic Tern being both larger and stockier than the other two.

Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata) by Ian (2)

Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata) by Ian (2)

Some of these difference, such as the extent of transparency and dark webs in the flight feathers can only be seen in flight, second photo. If you’re not too worried about identification, then you can appreciate the beauty of all these elegant mid-sized terns and, given their graceful flight and forked tails, it’s no wonder that they have been called Sea Swallows. This photo was taken the following day at Enderby Island, one of the Auckland Islands. We were allowed to land there and it proved to be a fascinating place. At a small colony of nesting Antarctic Terns the bird in the third photo is just landing at its neat grassy nest to incubate the two eggs.

Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata) by Ian (3)

Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata) by Ian (3)

Both at Snares and on Enderby, there were other similar terns in non-breeding plumage, fourth photo, hanging around the edges of the breeding colony. This is where separation of the three species gets tough and is either a fascinating challenge or a nightmare for keen birders – depending on one’s attitude – and it’s no surprise that in the British Isles Common and Arctic Terns are collectively and wryly referred to as ‘Comic’ Terns. Birders have it fairly easy there and don’t have to worry about Antarctic Terns (we won’t even discuss the South American and Kerguelen Terns which complete the quintet). At Snares, we were tempted to identify this as an Arctic Tern. Arctic Terns, incidentally, easily win the prize for migration, breeding in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere and wintering on the coast of Antarctica.

Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata) by Ian (4)

Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata) by Ian (4)

It wasn’t until we got to Enderby and found more of these non-breeding birds in close proximity to breeding Antarctic Terns that we could compare the two sorts side by side and conclude that they were non-breeding Antarctic Terns. When I got home, the Handbook of Birds of the World, confirmed that in some places one year old birds, not old enough to breed, do occur at colonies. It may well be that the few records of Antarctic Terns for mainland Australia is more a reflection of the difficulties of separating non-breeding birds, that their actual rarity.

Back at the website, recent additional species from the trip that might be of interest include:

Best wishes
Ian

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Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Check the latest website updates:
http://www.birdway.com.au/#updates


Lee’s Addition:

and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens. (Genesis 1:20 ESV)

I am glad Ian figures these birds out for us. I have a real challenge just with the Terns I see at our shores. Like Ian tells us, the real ID problem comes when they are in their non-breeding plumages.

Thanks again, Ian, for sharing your birdwatching adventures with us.

Terns are put of the Laridae Family. Check out all of Ian’s Laridae – Sternini & Rynchopin Genus photos, then check out the Laridae – Gulls, Terns and Skimmers Family here.

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Birds Vol 1 #3 – The Black Tern

Black Tern, Mother and young with eggs, for Birds Illustrated

Black Tern, Mother and young with eggs, for Birds Illustrated

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. March, 1897 No. 3

THE BLACK TERN.

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HE TERN,” says Mr. F. M. Woodruff, of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, “is the only representative of the long-winged swimmers which commonly nests with us on our inland fresh water marshes, arriving early in May in its brooding plumage of sooty black. The color changes in the autumn to white, and a number of the adult birds may be found, in the latter part of July, dotted and streaked here and there with white. On the first of June, 1891, I found a large colony of Black Terns nesting on Hyde Lake, Cook County, Illinois. As I approached the marsh a few birds were seen flying high in the air, and, as I neared the nesting site, the flying birds gave notes of alarm, and presently the air was filled with the graceful forms of this beautiful little bird. They circled about me, darting down to within a few feet of my head, constantly uttering a harsh, screaming cry. As the eggs are laid upon the bare ground, which the brownish and blackish markings so closely resemble, I was at first unable to find the nests, and discovered that the only way to locate them was to stand quietly and watch the birds. When the Tern is passing over the nest it checks its flight, and poises for a moment on quivering wings. By keeping my eyes on this spot I found the nest with very little trouble. The complement of eggs, when the bird has not been disturbed, is usually three. These are laid in a saucer shaped structure of dead vegetation, which is scraped together, from the surface of the wet, boggy ground. The bird figured in the plate had placed its nest on the edge of an old muskrat house, and my attention was attracted to it by the fact that upon the edge of the rat house, where it had climbed to rest itself, was the body of a young dabchick, or piedbilled grebe, scarcely two and one-half inches long, and not twenty-four hours out of the egg, a beautiful little ball of blackish down, striped with brown and white. From the latter part of July to the middle of August large flocks of Black Terns may be seen on the shores of our larger lakes on their annual migration southward.”

The Rev. P. B. Peabody, in alluding to his observation of the nests of the Tern, says: “Amid this floating sea of aquatic nests I saw an unusual number of well constructed homes of the Tern. Among these was one that I count a perfect nest. It rested on the perfectly flat foundation of a small decayed rat house, which was about fourteen inches in diameter. The nest, in form, is a truncated cone (barring the cavity), was about eight inches high and ten inches in diameter. The hollow—quite shallow—was about seven inches across, being thus unusually large. The whole was built up of bits of rushes, carried to the spot, these being quite uniform in length—about four inches.” After daily observation of the Tern, during which time he added much to his knowledge of the bird, he pertinently asks: “Who shall say how many traits and habits yet unknown may be discovered through patient watching of community-breeding birds, by men enjoying more of leisure for such delightful studies than often falls to the lot of most of us who have bread and butter to earn and a tiny part of the world’s work to finish?”

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) by J Fenton

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) by J Fenton


Lee’s Addition:

The Terns are in the Charadriiformes Order and the Laridae Family is part of that order. Laridaes include Gulls, Terns and Skimmers. The Tern, per se, is not a Gull, but are related and would be close in “kind.” The Birds of the Bible – Sea Gulls gives several articles that have been written here. The Sea Gull is found in the list of unclean birds given in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after its kind; (Leviticus 11:16 NKJV)

“The Black Tern, Chlidonias niger, is a small tern generally found in or near inland water in Europe and North America. As its name suggests, it has predominantly dark plumage. Adult are 25 cm (9.75 in) long, with a wing span 6/1 cm (24 in), and weigh 62 g (2.2 oz). They have short dark legs and a short, weak-looking black bill, measuring 27–28 mm, nearly as long as the head. The bill is long, slender, and looks slightly decurved. The North American race, C. n. surinamensis, is distinguishable from the European form in all plumages, and is considered by some to be a separate species.

In flight, the build appears slim. The wing-beats are full and dynamic, and flight is often erratic as it dives to the surface for food; similar to other tern species.

North American Black terns migrate to the coasts of northern South America, some to the open ocean. Old World birds winter in Africa.
Unlike the “white” Sterna terns, these birds do not dive for fish, but forage on the wing picking up items at or near the water’s surface or catching insects in flight. They mainly eat insects and fish as well as amphibians.

The North American population has declined in recent times due to loss of habitat. Point Pelee National Park in Canada boasts a robust population of black terns.” (Wikipedia)

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) by J Fenton

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) by J Fenton

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Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 March 1897 No 3 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial for February 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

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(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Meadow Lark

Previous Article – The Return Of The Birds

Wordless Birds

Links:

All About Birds – Black Tern

Black Tern with eggs at nest photo – ARKive

Black Tern – Wikipedia

Ad in the Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Ad in the Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

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