by Larry Czajkoski
Staying with our shorebird theme this issue and staying in the tern family, I photographed this handsome Forster’s Tern on the Gulf Coast beaches of Sarasota this past December. Named after the nineteenth-century German naturalist Johann R. Forster, Forster’s tern may be found in marshes and on the coastline here in North Carolina, as well as much of the rest of the eastern states and gulf states coastline. During migration, small flocks or individual birds often show up on small lakes or ponds, so be on the lookout for them here in Lake Lure.
Forster’s tern is pearl gray and white with a black cap and black & orange bill, with a deeply forked tail and long, narrow wings. Males and females look alike. Immatures and adults in winter plumage (as shown in the photo) have black/white speckled (not black) caps and a dark black mask through the eye and ear. This winter plumage mark (worn from about August until the following spring) is very obvious and identifies this species even at a distance.
Forster’s terns hunt from the air and take a great variety of prey. In the ocean, they will dive for small fish. They seize flying insects, such as dragonflies, or swoop low to the ground to snatch up grasshoppers, beetles, or locusts. This tern seems to feel more at home on the wing than on land. They can fly effortlessly for hours and with such agility they regularly catch aquatic insects often without getting a single feather wet.