Stay in the know about wildlife, water quality, and ecosystems on Sanibel and Captiva Islands and in Southwest Florida

Wintering Terns Start Arriving With Young

August 22, 2023
Fledgling royal terns often beg for food from their parents

Image: Fledgling royal tern begging for food from its parent.

With record-breaking temperatures in Florida this past month, it’s hard to imagine that winter is just around the corner. But Sanibel and Captiva’s wintering shorebirds and seabirds are here to remind us! 

Royal terns, sandwich terns, short-billed dowitchers, and piping plovers are just a few of the species the SCCF Shorebird Team has already welcomed back to the islands this year. 

Although royal terns and sandwich terns can be spotted on Sanibel and Captiva year-round, mature adults spend their summers in northern breeding grounds along the Atlantic coast. At the end of their nesting season, many adult terns arrive at their wintering grounds with fledglings at their side.

“Royal terns and sandwich terns tend to congregate in large, mixed flocks with other seabirds, sometimes over a hundred individuals strong,” said SCCF Shorebird Intern Jessie Macaluso. 

Young terns stick with their parents for up to 8 months or longer after hatching, she said, adding that you can identify fledglings from adults by their scalier-looking plumage and by their food-begging behavior.

“When you hear lots of loud squeaking noises coming from the flock, that’s the sound of young terns begging their parents for fish,” Macaluso said. 

Safeguarding Shorebirds

Because these new arrivals have traveled hundreds of miles to reach their wintering grounds, it’s important to give them space and allow them to rest, she added. Even a small disturbance can lead the whole flock to flush, causing the birds to expend energy that could otherwise be used in caring for their young. 

“Remember to keep dogs leashed and practice shorebird-friendly photography when admiring these diligent parents and their ever-hungry fledglings,” Macaluso said.

Learn more about protecting shorebirds and seabirds.


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