A graceful tern
The common tern is a graceful bird observed on the Gaspesian coast, easily recognized by its black cap and white and grey body. Its bill is dark orange with a black tip. It has white wings with dark grey primary remiges (the feathers at the tip of the wings), almost black.
The common tern nests in Canada and migrate to South America for the winter. Even if that sounds like a long migration to us, it is nothing compared with the migration of its cousin, the Arctic tern, which migrates from the Arctic to the Antarctic.
The common tern eats small fish, which it catches after a plunge from flight. When it lives close to salt water, it will drink it to hydrate and will excrete the excess salt with salt glands situated in is beak, like most seabirds. It nests on the ground, often in the sand. The chicks, from one to four, are born with eyes open and the ability to walk even if they stay in the nest in the beginning, using their spotted down to hide in the vegetation.
Even if the species is considered least concern, some populations are dropping. It is the case of the tern population of the Baie de Gaspé. The human presence and abundance of gulls has caused a rapid decline. A junkyard close by has helped the increase of the gull population. These birds attack the tern nests, therefore making it hard for them to repopulate. Thankfully, the Kouchibouguac national park population is healthy. With some protection and gull population control, it would be possible to see the common tern back in the region. Since the common tern is greatly influenced by human disturbance, here is what you can do if you see nesting terns: observe from afar, enjoy the show and do not disturb them so that people can continue to enjoy the majestic flight of the common tern.
Author: Stephanie Bentz, biologist in charge of education
Photo credits: Stéphanie Bentz