Does it really take a village to raise a child? If your child has wings and is a newborn Royal Tern, then, it might be true. The Royal Terns and Laughing Gull chicks I photographed in June (see 15 June blog) are nearly fledged. There were thousands of chicks hatched in the sand dune scrapes at Huguenot Park this summer. I would dare say about half of them are gone due to predators. The remaining Royal Tern hatchlings called “Downys” are few. The entire flock of adult Royals closely guards the few survivors.
Per the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology: “Young Royal Terns leave the nest scrape within one day after hatching and congregate together in a group known as a crÃ¨che. Eventually all of the chicks in a colony come to the crÃ¨che, which can have thousands of chicks ranging in age from two to 35 days old. A pair of Royal Terns will feed only their own chick, and manage to find it in the crowd, probably by recognizing its call.” As the young grow and begin to fledge and move out onto the beach to feed, the adults surround the remaining young in groups of 10-20 or more birds around a single downy. All incoming birds are called and challenged as they approach. A predator will be met with the fury of the entire Royal “aunts and uncles” that they can muster. And of course if a parent comes in to feed the downy the protectors all expect a little reward from time to time.
Royal Terns continue back and forth over the beach returning from the ocean with a variety of foods; small fish, minnows, large shrimp, eels and even squid. The latter often leave large “ink” blotch stains on the tern. They are usually be followed by other hungry Royals or Laughing gulls who pounce on them and steal the food whenever possible. Wealth redistribution they call it.
Only the strong survive. I am not convinced it took the small rural town I grew up in to raise me. I had two able and willing parents to do that and some mighty busy guardian angels. But that small town sure left a big influence on me. I think it was mostly good too. Be blessed. Harry