Attack of the Common Terns!

Common terns (Sterna hirundo) are fierce defenders of their nests and territories. I have seen them during breeding season at Nickerson Beach (Long Island), Governors Island, and Breezy Point (Queens). They will dive-bomb any intruder who they think might be too close to their nests or … anything at all they think you are too close to! They chatter and fly right at you. You have to admire their tenacity (though you also have to protect your head and hat).

Common tern, Nickerson Beach, May 17, 2019. He and his buddies would have loved to take my Yankees cap or peck my eyes out!

Common tern, Nickerson Beach, May 17, 2019. He and his buddies would have loved to take my Yankees cap or peck my eyes out!

Common Terns on Governors Island

On my trip to Governors Island on Aug. 6, 2017, I found a banded common tern on the northwest side of the island hanging out on the fence and flying out over the water. I took pictures and video (which you can see on the Governors Island page).

We visited Governors Island on July 17, a very hot day with a very hot sun. Our first stop was the pier with the nesting common terns. The area was fenced off to protect the birds, and we had to shoot our photographs through the fence. But the little birds were a joy to watch as they waited for their parents to fly in with little fish dinners. I was taken with how each parent feeds only his or her own little chicks, and will take off if another chick tries to take the fish.

Common Tern, Governor's Island, July 17, 2016

Common Tern, Governor's Island, July 17, 2016

New York State lists the common tern as "threatened," but among the terns, the common tern is the most widespread and abundant in the state. With their blood-red bills and glossy black caps, these birds are very distinctive.

We got to see chicks of various ages. I especially liked the youngster who sought cooling relief in a very shallow little puddle, and the two even younger chicks who pranced around the pier waiting for dinner. I set the Filming the Feathers video from our visit to the terns' own sounds and to music by Alexander Borodin, performed by the Musopen String Quartet.