Posts Tagged ‘Fledglings’

More tern chicks are fledging with each passing day here on Metinic!   It is great to walk out into the colony and see the chicks take off into the air rather than running to the tall grass for cover, especially after a couple of weeks of limited food coming in.  Some of the older chicks are starting to venture out into the intertidal and over the water; we even saw a fledgling way down at the very southern end of the island when we walked down there one afternoon.


A fledgling watching us carefully.  It took off as soon as we got closer.

The chicks aren’t the only ones venturing out.  This week during a provisioning stint, Mark spotted a roseate tern resting on a rock in the intertidal!  While this tern appeared to only be passing through and not a resident, this is still exciting because they are federally endangered, and so it is nice to see that they are at least in the area.  This brings our island species list up to 96!


The roseate tern Mark spotted on the right, and a common tern on the left.  Roseate terns have a longer bill and tail than the Arctic and common terns.  Their bill is also mostly black and their body is paler in color than the other terns.

Earlier in the week we spent an afternoon searching for Leach’s storm-petrel burrows.  Previously, we had been doing this by smelling holes along the old rock walls as the petrel burrows give off a distinct scent that is described to be like old musty books.  After reading on a previous blog that the petrels could also be found by playing their call from our phones and listening for a response from the birds, we were able to find even more burrows.  So, a big thank you to our friends on Petit Manan Island for that suggestion, it seems to work well!  If you’re curious what a Leach’s storm-petrel sounds like, here is a link to website with audio recordings of them: Click here to get to the website.  We do have petrels burrowing underneath our house, so it is funny to hear this at night and periodically during the day!


One of the entrances to a Leach’s storm-petrel burrow along the old rock wall. 

I’ll leave you with a fun thing happened this week as I was walking along the shore back to the house from checking burrows.  I came across a plastic water bottle that looked like it had something inside it, and to my surprise, it was a message in a bottle!  It’s true that you never know what you’ll find working out on the Maine coastal islands!  I will email whoever sent it out to let them know where we found it!




Other than our continued provisioning, productivity, and guillemot burrow checks, that’s about it for this week!

– Helen

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We’ve got tern fledglings on Metinic! After a few breezy days of large chicks jumping up and flapping, some have finally gotten airborne. While not as sleek or acrobatic as their parents, the somewhat pudgy fledglings are still capable fliers. They are still returning to their nests to get fed, but then fly off instead of running into the grass with the smaller chicks. Even as our first chicks take to the air, more chicks keep hatching, so we’ll continue to be busy for the next few weeks.


These arctic tern chicks are from nests 5 feet apart. One is ~18 days old, the other ~3 days old. Arctic terns fledge at around 21-24 days.

ARTE with hake

An arctic tern flies in with a small hake for a small chick.

As if to make up for the splendid weather we’ve had most of the season, the dreary fog and rain has finally been keeping us inside. It’s best to keep off the tern colony when it is cool and wet so the parents can keep their chicks warm and dry instead of flying at us. The weather has given us a good opportunity to catch up on data entry and stay warm around the wood stove, at least whenever we aren’t heading off persistent colony-bound sheep.


The wood stove is a welcome sight upon returning from chasing sheep in the rain.

During breaks in the dismal weather, we’ve gotten out to check on our growing guillemot chicks. They’re starting to get pretty big and hiding deep enough in their burrows that it has become a bit of a challenge to get some of them out to weigh them and measure their wing chord. While wedged in the rocks with my arm deep inside an active guillemot burrow, I spotted our first whimbrels of the season on the beach. That brings our island species list up to 95 with a passing puffin spotted during provisioning. We’re hoping to reach 100 species before the end of the season, and it certainly seems within reach.

Until next time!


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It’s only been a few short weeks, but our first few tern chicks are already taking to the sky. Although adult terns may make flying seem effortless, a chick has a lot to do and learn before its first flight.

First off, you can’t fly without feathers. Tern chicks are hatched covered in fluffy down. While these soft feathers may be warm and provide excellent camouflage, they aren’t very aerodynamic. Over the  weeks, our tern chicks have been going from this:

To this:

To this:

Their wings will grow from less than 20mm long to almost 200mm, mostly by adding long sturdy flight feathers. Their adult wingspan will be close to two and a half feet!

The chicks also grow tail feathers, but they won’t get the long, pointed streamers that mark an adult tern. As a result, you can spot a fledgling by the stubby-looking tail, even if you can’t see the unique color patterns on its back.

All these new feathers need to be kept clean and tidy, so soon-to-be fledglings spend a lot of time preening:

The next step is to build up muscle. Flying is hard work and for the first part of its life, a tern chick doesn’t use its wings for much. To make up for this, tern chicks flapping even before their wings are fully grown.

And of course, before a strenuous workout, it’s always good to do a bit of stretching:

No, not all tern chicks are green. This chick is part of a provisioning study, so he’s been color marked.

Once all their feathers come in, tern chicks start working extra hard to get airborne. It’s actually quite common to see a chick’s weight drop significantly just before it fledges.

It’s not uncommon to see them taking naps, either. Hey, all that flapping is exhausting!

Finally, for some chicks it might take a little extra encouragement. This fledgling wandered onto a neighbor’s territory and finally got airborne as he was being chased away.

While flying is a big step, these chicks still have a lot of growing up to do. Fledglings must master the delicate art of landing, figure out how to fly with a flock, and learn to catch their own food. In the mean time they can be seen begging food from their parents and making cautious practice dives into the water.

Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

Like the terns, we’ve only got a got a short amount of time left on the island, but I’ve got a post or two more up my sleeve before we say farewell from Ship Island.


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