Who wants to eat?

First, let me welcome those of you who have become new followers of my blog – nice to have you reading here and I hope you comment on what you like! I am way behind on my postings for the blog but will try to remedy that. There are photos almost ready for a series on bird courtship and child-rearing, as well as some other non-bird topics, but various issues have been keeping me from completing the texts. Now that I have had to take my preferred camera in for repairs, however, I have a bit more time to work on the blog and a recent brief trip to Topsail Island is providing some almost ready-made postings.

The south end of Topsail Island has been eroded greatly by the Atlantic storms, including effects from Hurricane Irma. Where normally the beach sloped up gently to beautiful dunes, these have now been sheared off vertically and the sea grasses and other vegetation before the dunes have been swept away.



That is of concern as the sea turtles nest there; hopefully, there will be sufficient places for their eggs next year. There were far fewer shells on the beach but at low tide the swath of empty sand was very wide.


Mixed groups of birds were resting there in between ocean fishing expeditions. There were a couple immature common terns (Sterna hirundo) who were begging for food incessantly, but the adults pretty much ignored them, preferring to preen or settle down for a rest.

Some of the begging was pretty vigorous, accompanied by feather ruffling and shaking but I didn’t see any parents go off for food.

The sandwich terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis) were also resting but individuals took off frequently for a fishing flight. These terns are easily identifiable by the yellow tips on their black bills and their Groucho Mark hair-dos, a boon for people like me who are challenged in recognizing which shorebird they have before them. Sometimes, you could imagine a conversation taking place between them.

Hi! I’m back from fishing!

Didn’t take long, did it?

See, I got a fish!

Wanna smell it?

Not to your liking, huh?

Walking in circles around me won’t make it any different

I think I’ll go feed a young one!

There were two immature sandwich terns who were very persistent in asking for a meal.

Come on, Ma, I’m hungry!

I am really really hungry!

Oh yum, lunch!

That’s right, put it right here!

Thank goodness you brought me something!

I’m STILL hungry!

Perhaps the adult sandwich terns were accommodating to their young as they have a lot of experience in raising them – the oldest one on record lived in North Carolina and reached the ripe old age (for a bird) of 24 years and 2 months! (However, the oldest common tern on record was 25 years, so perhaps the sandwich terns are just more caring?)

The birds were quite entertaining to watch and I have more photos to share from that trip. I will try to intersperse them between postings on avian child-rearing. Have a nice day!

Russet-colored shorebird beauties – feminists among the waders!

ruddy turnstone IMG_8605©Maria de Bruyn resOne of my favorite shorebirds is the small sandpiper called a ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres). Their coloring is a mix of black, white and reddish colors, with adults being more brightly colored when mating and breeding.

These birds are very territorial during the breeding season; they recognize variations in plumage patterns and can identify individuals, which helps them chase away intruders into their territories. Pairs are monogamous when breeding and may mate for several years.

ruddy turnstone IMG_0329©Maria de Bruyn resruddy turnstone IMG_8596©Maria de Bruyn res

ruddy turnstone IMG_8651©Maria de Bruyn resWhen they fly, a stunning pattern is revealed in their spread wings, with striking white patches and bars.

The name turnstone comes from the fact that the birds tend to turn over stones while foraging for insects, crustaceans, worms and mollusks. Several birds may cooperate to overturn larger rocks. This carnivorous diet is supplemented with moss, fruit and berries. Occasionally, the turnstones have also been seen to prey on the eggs of other birds but this behavior appears to be uncommon.

ruddy turnstone IMG_0337©Maria de Bruyn resruddy turnstone IMG_8654©Maria de Bruyn res

They search for their food on rocky outcroppings, among stones, in sand and the ground, inserting their bills into the earth or flipping over seaweed to find meals hidden there.

ruddy turnstone IMG_8629©Maria de Bruyn res ruddy turnstone IMG_8619©Maria de Bruyn res

ruddy turnstone IMG_8782©Maria de BruynThese small birds breed in Northern arctic and tundra regions and then migrate South in the winter, quite often returning to the same wintering grounds each year. Their chicks leave the nest within hours after hatching and abandon the nest within a day. It is the males who take on the major childrearing tasks, guarding the territorial perimeters and warning the female when predators (owls, merlins, gulls, foxes) are near. They also show the young fledglings where to find food after the females have left to pursue other activities.

Outside breeding season and during winter migration, the birds are quite sociable. They have been seen preening and grooming for long periods.

ruddy turnstone IMG_0284©Maria de Bruyn res ruddy turnstone IMG_0305©Maria de Bruyn res

ruddy turnstone IMG_0278©Maria de Bruyn resruddy turnstone IMG_0317©Maria de Bruyn resruddy turnstone IMG_0206©Maria de Bruyn res

The populations of ruddy turnstones are fairly stable and they are not threatened at this time – good news for the bird lovers among us!