110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Lynn Bowen
posted Mar 2, 2014 - 8:17:16am
The 20-inch-long royal tern really looks like royalty with his distinctive long, bright-orange bill, pale-gray upper body, and white underbody plumage. His elegant wingspan is 41 inches, and His Highness weighs 1 pound.
The wingtips are black, and so is the narrow band across the back of the tern’s head, which looks like a little tiara during non-breeding time. However, in the summer, the whole top of the head becomes black, indicating to other terns that it is mating time. The small legs and little webbed feet are black.
Royal terns live only on tropical coasts of the U.S., Caribbean islands, Peru, Brazil, and the west coast of Africa. At breeding time, these seabirds live in colonies of 100 to 4,000 pairs, thus keeping predators away since there is safety in a high population.
After mating, the female lays one egg (sometimes two) in an unlined scrape nest that is just a dent in the sand, or no nest at all. Both parents incubate their treasure for 25 to 30 days. The parents will only feed their own chicks, and know their own baby’s unique call -- apparently no adoptions are allowed.
At only 1 day old, the chicks move from the nest to a “nursery,” which many adult terns instinctively provide. The chicks stay there from the age of 2 days to 35 days. The parents find food for themselves and their chick, trusting the baby-sitting service.
Flying 16 to 33 feet above the ocean, royal terns “plunge-dive” into 3- to 7-foot watery depths for their diet of small fish, shrimps and insects. The average age of royal terns is 17 years, but they can live up to 28 years!
Beach audiences enjoy admiring these feathered, regal “aristocrats.”
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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