Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chambal diary: 5. Little Tern

The Little Tern is the smallest of the resident terns in the Chambal - tiny compared to the much larger skimmers and river terns. Instead of a neat full black cap, they have a white forehead, and a streak of black serving as eye-patches. Their legs are also much less colourful compared to their fellow terns and skimmers.

In this entry, I describe the nesting behaviour of this species of terns. Most of this behaviour is common with the other terns and the skimmer. This blog entry gives a snapshot into the part-ritual and part-politics that is an inherent part of the terns' lives.

The first thing to do for the males is to find a female who does not chase them away. A gift of a fish is mandatory to beginning the courtship ritual. Birds paired initially like this spend a long time - sometimes hours - standing in the position showed above calling to each other. The male ensures that the female does not snatch the fish away, but keeps it as tantalising bait until the female is ready to mate.

Competition for mates is common! Here, a male with a much larger fish tries to break up the courtship, but the male and the female bird that have bonded scare away the interloper. Clearly, size of the bait-fish is not everything!

After much posturing and courtship, the female finally allows the male to mate with her, and the male relinquishes the fish.

Mating itself lasts a very short time.

It appears to be the males' job to choose the spot where the female will lay their eggs. It is also his job to create the depression in the sand that will serve as the nest. The bird uses its belly, wriggles around in a circle until a depression is formed. The female watches over the whole exercise carefully.

Nests are located some distance from each other, and pairs are fiercely protective. There is a lot of jousting for space - both on the sand and in the air. Observing birds that nest in riverine islands is very rewarding. There is seldom a boring moment. Obsevers need to be very careful not to disturb the birds. It is less important to get full-frame photographs, for example, than it is to ensure that the birds are not disturbed.

Islands in the Chambal are exceedingly important for populations of a range of species, and here is to wishing that it continues to be do!

(All photos were taken on Apr 10, 2009 at the National Chambal Sanctuary, Etawah.)

1 comment:

  1. These pictures are awesome... Awesome seems to limit the thots and feelings that come to me when I saw the picture...