The royal tern is nature's version of a snowbird.
While walking along any of the five beaches of Boca Grande these birds are easily spotted. Just as human "snowbirds" flock to the Sunshine State for our warmer winter months, the royal terns also vie for the same sandy shores here to escape harsh winters.
Royal terns prefer saltwater habitats such as beaches and bays. They feed mainly on small fish, squid, crabs and shrimp. They dive onto small fish they locate while flying with bills pointing toward the water. Royal terns often can be seen stealing fish away from brown pelicans and others larger birds.
Royal terns are large with pointed, gray-splashed wings, a forked tail, black legs and an orange bill.
Royal terns are large with pointed, gray-splashed wings, a forked tail, black legs and an orange bill. During breeding season, these graceful water birds have a whitish body with a black cap on their head.
They are gregarious so careful bird-watchers can walk close without alarming them. The sandbars at Little Gasparilla Pass are usually filled with royal terns among many other water birds.
The Port Boca Grande Light House beach as well as the public beach on the island are great spots to go view royal terns. On a recent fishing adventures near the sandy beaches of Boca Grande, I spotted a group of royal terns feeding along the shoreline. I was able to get up close enough to shoot some photos without disturbing them as they fed.
Merry Beth Ryan, a member of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association, can be reached at www.merrybethryanphotography.com, by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone (941) 544-5023.
Another great spot to view royal terns is Stump Pass. The sandbar just before entering what is known locally as " Ski Alley" is filled with these terns daily.
Royal terns move fast along the shoreline on foot. They scurry up and down the beach right along the edge of the water in search of food. The surf brings in small crustaceans the royal terns love to nibble on. Sand fleas, small crabs and shrimp are also a major part of their daily diets. They enjoy eating human scraps of food as well.
With large bait migrations soon to be arriving as water temperatures warm, the royal terns along will join other shorebirds in feasting on live minnows.
Royal terns travel in large flocks so when they are in flight it is a beautiful sight to see. They fly with grace and change direction together in flight. Often when a boat approaches a sandbar the entire flock will immediately take off so have your camera ready.
Royal tern flocks can number in the thousands. They make their ground nests on low-lying islands using shells, seaweed and pebbles. Young royal terns can leave the nest a day after they are hatched. They are still fed by their parents but they immediately learn to fly with all the other young terns in their colonies.