Terning Heads

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The common tern is the most widespread of the terns, breeding in large segments of the Northern Hemisphere and wintering throughout coastal regions of the Southern Hemisphere.


You are enjoying a day at the beach. As you walk along the shore, you notice seabirds that, at first glance, might be mistaken for gulls. Their feathers are white, gray and black, but the pattern of the colors differs from those seen in gulls; furthermore, these birds are more streamlined, and they have forked tails. Perhaps most distinctive of all is the way they dive for fish.

Now that you are curious, you watch one of them in action. Like a barnstorming pilot in an old biplane, the bird seems to be daring fate — plunging toward the water in a swift, sharp line. Instead of veering away and upwards, it just keeps going. Was this a disaster? No, it was all part of the plan. At what seems the last moment, the bird changes course and skims the surface to spear a fish with its beak. Then, fish in its mouth, it takes to the air again with ease and nonchalance.

Several species of terns are seen regularly in the Vero Beach area, and a few additional species are seen here occasionally. Observing the aerodynamic diving skills of these birds is a treat that can often be enjoyed during a visit to one of our beaches. The amazing migrations of some terns is another fascinating aspect of these birds’ lives. Don’t be fooled by their minimalist color schemes; terns have a flair all their own.

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