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Shorebird Team Encounters Banded Royal Terns

May 17, 2022

On a recent survey, our shorebird intern and biologist encountered a flock of migratory seabirds composed of royal terns (Thalasseus maximus), sandwich terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis), and laughing gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla). 

In the flock were several banded royal terns. One individual, with the code LYA, was an especially interesting resight. LYA was banded as a chick in 2018 by researchers from Virginia Tech (VT) at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. Researchers began banding chicks there prior to the massive construction project that would eventually eliminate the nesting habitat for thousands of seabirds. 

Fortunately, several agencies were able to work together to create alternative suitable nesting habitat on nearby islands for the displaced birds. Since 2018, SCCF staff and volunteers have been tracking several of these banded terns. Since royal terns do not reach reproductive maturity until 3-4 years of age, many of these birds have been seen consistently on and around Sanibel for the last three to four years. 

“LYA is especially interesting, since it has never been resighted since it was banded,” said Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht. “We have no way of knowing where it has been for the last four years but we are excited to hear where it goes to nest now that it has reached reproductive maturity, as indicated by its beautiful breeding plumage.”

In this photo, LYA’s breeding plumage is apparent as compared to the bird on the right. Also seen in the flock was 2AH, who was banded in 2019 as a chick by VT in Georgia, and has been on and around Sanibel ever since. Unlike LYA, 2AH is not yet in breeding plumage, and is not likely to migrate this year.  

It is important to remember not to disturb flocks of migratory birds like these terns. They are resting on their way north to their breeding grounds and need their energy for their long-distance travels. Every time they are flushed as in pressured to fly away, they are forced to expend precious energy reserves. 

When walking your dog on the beach, always keep them leashed and walk around the flocks rather than through, and never encourage children to chase the birds. Joggers and cyclists are also encouraged to slow down and give the birds plenty of space rather than flushing flocks.  

To learn more about how to share the shore with these birds, please visit




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