Posts Tagged ‘sandpiper’


It’s the end of the season and migration time for all of us. Hard as it is to believe, Zak and I have already been off Metinic for more than week.  We’re not the only ones heading out – our tern chicks will soon be off on their own travels.
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Common Terns will head for South America, a pretty long haul for chicks only a few weeks old. The Arctic Terns have even farther to go – all the way to Antarctica! Lucky for them, they’ve got parents to guide them. Chicks will often complete their first migration by following Mom or Dad. This is because tern parents usually have lots of migratory experience – Common Terns can live to be twenty years old, Arctic Terns more than thirty, and they typically migrate every year.


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The rest of our feathered friends are getting geared up for migration too. Shorebirds that we haven’t seen since May are flying south from their Arctic breeding grounds and stopped by to say hi before we left. It’s only a matter of time before the songbirds head out, too.
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It’s been a pretty good breeding season for our terns, especially in light of last’s years troubles. The Arctic Terns in particular did very well thanks to good food, good weather, and few problems with predators. We hope this bodes well for future years on Metinic. We (or next year’s crew) will let you know, starting next May!


Thanks for following along with our work here on Metinic. Zak and I have had a fantastic time out here and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about what we and the birds have been up to.

Wish our terns chicks luck!

– Amy

(All photos by Zak)

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I can’t believe the season is more than halfway over! Yet there is still so much to observe and enjoy here on Petit Manan island. Recently we have begun to see the first of the arctic migrants, such as dowitchers and sandpipers. We have even seen some wandering passerines like mockingbirds, mourning doves and a fledgling robin. It says something about islands life when seeing a robin is a big surprise!

Unfortunately, the terns have had a rather bad stretch of luck. The combination of bad weather, predation and (seemingly) lack of food have had a huge impact on chick numbers. Parts of the island have done better then others. However, the colony doing okay. We even have a few fledglings flying around!


Most disconcerting, for us researchers, has been watching the great blacked-back gulls swooping in and picking off tern chicks. They are efficient predators. It is equal parts interesting and terrifying to see them hunting. Jill got a great photo of one taking an eider duckling, so you can see one in action below.


This weekend we have been joined by Bangor high-school student Max. He’s been an excellent addition to the crew and has been a great help with our research. Here he is examining a tern egg this evening.


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With migration all but over and done with, birds here on Ship Island have begun the second phase of their summer cycle: nesting! We found our first Common Tern nests on May 27, and now have over 100 nests. Both parents take “terns” incubating the eggs, and the male often reinforces their pair bond by bringing his female fresh fish. They work together to choose a nest site, then begin scraping the ground with their feet to form a shallow bowl that they will later decorate with twigs and shells.

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One of our very first Tern eggs, this one a nice speckled brown.

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One of our early nests recently – a full clutch of eggs and much more well-defined nest cup.

The other birds here on the island have begun nesting as well, and today we found 2 Savannah Sparrow nests and 2 or 3 Spotted Sandpiper nests. Savannah Sparrows typically make their nests on the interior of the island, forming a bowl of protective dried grasses in the fields.

Savannah Sparrow Nest

Savannah Sparrow nest with three tiny little eggs.

Spotted Sandpipers, on the other hand, make nests near the water’s edge. These sandpipers, and others, differ from song birds like sparrows in that it is the female, not the male, who sets up and defends a territory. She and potential mates choose a nest site together, form a shallow bowl rimmed with grasses, then once the eggs are laid, the female leaves it up to the male to incubate. Females may have multiple partners or they may choose just one.

Spotted Sandpiper Nest

Spotted Sandpiper nest found along one of our trails, with four eggs that look a lot like a Tern’s, but smaller.

Though we haven’t found their nests yet, we know that Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Song Sparrows are also nesting here. Until next time,

– Julia

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