Extremely Social

Don’t these terns look spiffy with their coal-black crests, clean white throats and gray backs!

This is what sandwich terns look like in April as they enter the breeding season.  Handsome and sleek, these two are engaged in a threat display to decide who’s more powerful, but this is all for show.  Compared to other terns, sandwich terns aren’t aggressive.  They’re extremely social.

According to Birds of North America Online sandwich terns are one of the most gregarious and colonial of all terns.  In the U.S. they nest in dense colonies with royal terns and laughing gulls and are highly tolerant of near neighbors.  They benefit from the protection of their colony compatriots who are more aggressive toward predators, while the sandwich terns keep danger at bay by settling as close as possible to each other — as close as a bill-length away.

Right now, they aren’t ready to breed.  In fact they look rather dull because their crests are still white.

They may be thinking about spring, but they aren’t showing it yet.

(photos by Chuck Tague)

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