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!

Sea-side supper (and breakfast and lunch)

Often when we visit the seashore, we either see the birds flying overhead or resting on the sand. But we also get to see them hunting for food, either through their own means or taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by others – be they other animals or human beings.

Crabs are a favorite food for various birds, including boat-tailed grackles (Quiscalus major) and sanderlings (Calidris alba).

boat-tailed grackle IMG_6386©Maria de Bruyn resSanderling IMG_5024© Maria de Bruyn resSanderling IMG_5025© Maria de Bruyn res

Grackles also snack on sea oats – including the adult males, adult females and juveniles.

Boat-tailed grackle IMG_1361©Maria de Bruyn resBoat-tailed grackle IMG_1400©Maria de Bruyn res

fish IMG_5688 (2)© Maria de Bruyn


One afternoon on Topsail Island, I came across a fish on shore that had been abandoned.

ring-billed gull IMG_5190© Maria de Bruyn

Just after passing it, I turned to see a ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) fly in, obviously with the intention of making that fish its supper.

The gull was eating delicately, plucking bits of the fish off and eating at its leisure.

Unfortunately, the feast didn’t last long for the gull because a thief in the form of a large great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) swooped in. The ring-billed gull was not happy but couldn’t do much about it (click on the link to the video).

ring-billed gull IMG_5224© Maria de Bruyn resRing-billed gull IMG_5255© Maria de Bruyn

The people fishing from the shoreline frequently have a group of birds waiting nearby. This can definitely be to their benefit, as was the case for this juvenile great black-backed gull that was tossed a fish by a man wrapping up his activities for the day. He told me that he shared fish with the birds on a regular basis.

great black-backed gull IMG_4978© Maria de Bruyngreat black-backed gull IMG_4985© Maria de Bruyn res

Laughing gull  IMG_1150© Maria de BruynOther people also offer the seabirds food, but not always of the nutritious kind. Two days running, I saw Laughing gull  IMG_1194© Maria de Bruyn resa young man throwing orange-colored morsels into the air, which were snapped up eagerly by laughing gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla) and common terns (Sterna hirundo). Unfortunately, it appears that he was feeding them cheetohs or some kind of cracker with lots of food coloring. The birds seemed to be really anxious to snag a piece; obviously human beings aren’t the only species prone to eating junk food.



Other birds, like this laughing gull and snowy egret (Egretta thula) were more successful in finding their own food. And that is as it should be!

laughing gull IMG_5050©Maria de Bruynsnowy egret IMG_3329© Maria de Bruyn