Royal tern (Thalasseus maximus)
By Jan Baumgartner
With at least 17 species of terns in North America, it can be a challenge telling them apart since most don the familiar white, gray, and black plumage along with pointed bills and pointed wings
However, their sizes aids with identification.
The 19-inch long royal tern is bested only by its behemoth cousin, the 21-inch Caspian tern. No matter the size, terns are known for their quick and agile aerial maneuvers while hunting over coastlines and open waters.
Migratory royals enjoy wintering on Siesta Key’s beaches after the long commute from breeding grounds along the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts. The royals that stay on the gulf coast year-round give us a glimpse into their fascinating courtship rituals. The male serenades his intended while presenting her with a small fish, crab, or shrimp. His raised crest and deep bow in her direction seal the deal — all without a prenup!
Once paired, the two walk tight circles together in do-si-do fashion. Then, they strut side-by-side through the colony to announce their nuptials.
Their abode is modest: a small, unlined depression in the sand just big enough for one or two eggs which will hatch about a month later.
Jan Baumgartner’s handmade notecards are available at Sunshine & Sand Hidden Treasures, 6635 Midnight Pass Rd., in Crescent Plaza.