There is a Season Tern,Tern,Tern…..

A few years back, I stopped by Parker Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island in Newburyport Mass, hoping to photograph   Least Tern juveniles. While searching along Sandy Point, I was surprised at the number of nests I saw still containing eggs. It was pretty late in the season, although a biologist I spoke with said the same scenario occurred last year.

Each summer, the refuge closes a large stretch of beach, and ropes off known nesting areas to help protect this threatened species along with the endangered Piping Plover. Unfortunately, the birds don’t know that, and lay their eggs in the sand most anywhere. This leads to an increased risk of eggs or hatched chicks being killed by unsuspecting beach goers.

Least Tern Nest outside the ropes
Least Tern Nest with Chick and Egg


Above is a photo of a Least Tern nest with a newly hatched chick, and an unhatched egg, located outside of the roped off nesting area. If you were walking along the beach, it would be very easy to step right on them without even noticing.  If the parents are near by, you will know you are near a nest by their reaction. They will dive at you, or if on the ground, spread their wings and “look menacing”.

While there are certain disadvantages to “blending into your surroundings” ie getting stepped on, there are also distinct advantages. The chicks and eggs are very prone to predation from hawks, eagles, dogs, herons and egrets to name a few, so looking like your surroundings makes it more difficult for predators to locate you.

This is a photo of a Great Egret who has plundered a Plover nest killing one of the chicks.

Great Egret with a Plover Chick


Once a chick has hatched, the Least Tern parents spend a great deal of their time feeding their young.

Least Tern Chick being fed by parent
Least Tern Chick being fed by Parent
Least Tern chick with a fish


The parents also provide protection from both weather and predators.

Mom protecting chick
Mom protecting chick

The Parker Wildlife Refuge is one of the best spots in New England to check out these threatened and endangered birds.   If you do go, please obey the roped off areas, posted signs, and most of all WATCH YOUR STEP !!


John Vose

My Website

This entry was posted in Bird watching, Birds, Conservation, Ethics, Etiquette, Massachusetts, Nature, Nature Photography, Summer, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

One Comment

  1. Jeff Foliage August 16, 2011 at 22:28 #

    great article John, I love to get away to Plum island when I can… a really beautiful habitat…