These little terns might be small, but they put on a spectacular show as they swiftly whirl and swoop down in small groups all around our anchored boat. The Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus) also known as Marsh Tern was a new sighting for us last month, and makes an exciting #6 Bird Photography Challenge.
What does it look like?
The Whiskered Tern is a small slender seabird with a shortish and slightly forked tail. This species is 26cms in length, with a 65-70cm wingspan. It has a mid-grey plumage on its upper-parts, and slate grey below, the under-tail is white as are the underwings. The head is distinctive with a blackcap which extends to the nape and contrasts sharply with its white cheeks and sides of the neck. The bill is coral red, as are the legs and feet.
How does it behave?
What is distinctive about the Whiskered Tern compared to other terns is its foraging habit. It flies back and forth, fluttering up to five meters above water, then swoops or drops to snatch small items on or just under the surface. It mainly feeds on small fish, frogs, crabs, insects and their larvae.
It breeds on vegetated inland lakes, marshes and rivers in small colonies. The nest is a rough raft of vegetation which can be floating or attached to the shore.
Did you know?
Seabirds can often fish in one of three ways: plunging, dipping and hawking. The Whiskered Tern does all three. Plunging involves a hover then dive, with wings raised, from two to four meters above the water. Dipping means they fly low over water, skimming the surface or pattering with legs dangling to take insects. Hawking is catching insects on the fly.
Where is it found?
The Whiskered Tern ranges widely. It is found along the coast on estuaries, coastal lagoon, creeks and mangrove swamps. Although widespread worldwide, it is patchily distributed in Australia and is migratory and nomadic. We saw them for the first time this spring at Emu Bight in the Gippsland Lakes, when their distinctive look and behaviour caught our attention. We then saw many more of them at Lake Borrie Wetlands. The images were taken with a Canon 60D and EF100-400 lens on full zoom, hand-held.
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