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THE COMMON TERN
(Sterna hirundo)

THE common tern is one of the most graceful birds that adorn our coasts. At one time it was fast going in the path of the passenger pigeon and trumpeter swan, but thanks to timely laws for its protection, it is now steadily increasing in numbers. The terns congregate at their favorite nesting sites, certain small islands along the coast, and a few isolated interior points, about the middle of June, the nesting season extending thence to the middle of August.



TERN AT NEST. ON ALIGHTING, THEIR WINGS ARE HELD EXTENDED FOR A MOMENT


TERN GRACEFULLY FOLDING ITS WINGS



A TERN'S NEST AT THE EDGE OF SALT-WATER GRASS


THE TERNS' NESTS ARE MERE DEPRESSIONS IN THE SAND, SOMETIMES LINED WITH A FEW GRASSES;
OR THEY MAY BE PLACED ON SEAWEED, OR OCCASIONALLY BACK IN THE COARSE ISLAND GRASS


NOTE THE GRACEFUL NECK OF THE TERN

Numerous visits I made to one of these sites, known as the Wee Pecket Islands, in Buzzards Bay, furnished many captivating hours spent in observing the active colony life of the terns. As one approached the island, the terns, rising in swarms from the beach and outlying rocks, hovered overhead, their protesting voices swelling to a volume that could be heard far off. Their nests, simply depressions in the sand, sometimes lined with grass or seaweed, are placed along the beach above high-water mark, a few also being scattered inland and so thickly are they strewn at points, that it is necessary to walk with care to avoid treading on the eggs or young. Two, three, or rarely four, profusely spotted eggs are laid. For a few days the adults brood the newly hatched young, shielding them during the day from the hot rays of the sun. Thereafter the young terns wander about, seeking the shade of rocks during midday. As one walks along the shore, they squat down flat, quite aware of the fact that their protective coloring blends almost indistinguishably with the rocks, or they take to the water, for they are perfect swimmers from the start. From the downy little balls a few days old to those able to fly, these precocious youngsters wander around everywhere, and the first question of the visitor is, "How can the old terns find their own progeny amid such swarms of young birds?"




A YOUNG TERN AT THE STAGE WHEN THEY LEARN TO FLY


A TERN'S NEST IN THE SEAWEED. EGGS HATCHING

After one has remained quietly seated for a time, the colony life continues in its usual way. The birds soon alight, covering the beaches and rocks. Occasionally small flocks rest on the surface a short distance from shore. It is an interesting fact that only near their nesting sites do terns rest on the water. Suddenly, all the birds will take wing in mass, fly out over the ocean, circle around and presently return to land. This performance is repeated often and without apparent cause. Terns travel many miles in search of fish. Some are constantly starting off empty-billed, others returning, each with a shiner, sand ell, or other small fry in its beak. Against the wind they fly low ; with it, high. The food is either fed to the young, or laid down for them to pick up. An adult will sometimes coax a young tern that is near you to what it considers a safer location by walking backward with a fish in its bill, keeping just out of reach of its hungry pursuer.

When one has watched their graceful turns and darts as they plunge into the ocean, it is realized what an important element the terns are in any seaside landscape.



THE YOUNG TERNS FURNISH A FINE EXAMPLE OF PROTECTIVE COLORING



WHEN ALARMED THE TERN SQUATS AMONG THE ROCKS, WHERE IT IS EASILY OVERLOOKED


GOOD SWIMMERS, THE TERNS OFTEN TAKE TO THE WATER WHEN APPROACHED


TERNS RESTING ON AND FLYING ABOUT ROCKS OFF THEIR NESTING SITE


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