Summer is here in Florida for sure. Heat, sweltering humidity, and the other thing that summertime is known for, I.E. hot chicks on the beach! No, not the human kind, the shorebird kind. Everyone has heard about the legendary “Bigfoot” creature that roams the Northwest forests and other haunts. But have you seen the “Big Mouth”? I have, thousands of them. Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls raise up a new generation at one of our local beaches. The hatchlings emerge from the dune nests and are they always hungry. Fuzzy wings give way to feathers. Each day, little birds with “Big Mouths”, venture out further from the security of the dunes and onto the beach, waiting to be fed.
The Terns and Gull chicks are unable to regulate their body temperatures until their feathers grow in. They need shade relief to keep from overheating, which the parents provide under the protection of their wings. The cool wet sand provides some respite from the heat. Royal Terns (unlike the gulls) also cooperate by helping protect all the hatchlings by gathering in groups called a “Creche”. Parents, aunts and uncles and adult cousin birds all look out for the baby terns, fending off predatory attacks (Unfortunately, Laughing Gulls often prey on the Royal Terns hatchlings. I observe this all too often. It would do little good to try to intervene).
Each day the parents have the task of filling the hungry “Big Mouths” with fresh seafood. I am astonished at how large a fish or other meal they can swallow (or attempt to swallow). The Royal Tern chicks hear their parent calling and they run and open those huge mouths. The "handoff" of food from the parent is usually done in a fraction of a second. Capturing the precise feeding action takes practice, skill, and often luck. The parent will not feed another tern’s chick. The Laughing Gulls can often be seen standing near the Royal Tern chicks to try and steal the food or chase the parents and snatch it before it even gets to the chick. I wonder if that is where early man got the idea to steal food from others.
They may have big mouths but they sure are cute. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for some of the big mouth “TV Stars” and politicians that permeate the news lately. I wish one of the Laughing Gulls would poop in their big mouths. Have a Happy Fourth of July. Blessings.