Taking flight with the little terns

Taking flight with the little terns


Posted 13th Jul 2018 by Peter Byrne


Little tern chicks are starting to leave their nest as they prepare to make their 5,000km journey to their West Africa wintering grounds

One of the UK's rarest seabirds, little tern chicks heavily rely on the east Norfolk coast where around 20 per cent of the national population resides.

Emma Witcutt, Little Tern Project Officer, said: "Like many of us who choose to live near, or holiday by our beautiful beaches, little terns have too realised that east Norfolk is the perfect summer spot."

 "However, nesting little terns face lots of challenges on our beaches. High tides, predators, human disturbance, and freak weather can all impact on this specie’s breeding success."

 "That’s why it’s so fantastic that we are starting to see this year’s chicks taking their first flight: preparing for the long journey back to West Africa on their own."

Little tern chicks will take their first flight when they are aged between 18 and 21 days old. It's at this point they become known as 'fledglings'. This has proved to be an exciting time for staff and volunteers, who have worked on beaches along the east Norfolk coast to protect these birds, as he's watched them grow.

Lyn Ibbitson-Elk, RSPB Little Tern Volunteer, commented: "I have had the privilege to volunteer on the RSPB Little Tern Project for several years and it is a very special experience. These precious little seabirds honour us in Norfolk with their presence for only a few months every year, having flown an astonishing 5,000km."

 "It is wonderful to hear their haunting calls, see their aerial displays and if you are lucky, see them plunge dive into the sea for sand eel.  We need to do everything we can to preserve our colonies of 'Little Pickies' to safeguard their future. They really are a cracking little Norfolk bird!"

A few facts about the little terns:

- Little terns will measure less than 25cm in length and weighs around the same as a tennis ball.

- In Norfolk, the little tern is also known as the 'Little Pickie' due to how they will skilfully 'pick' fish from the sea with their bills.

- The picky eaters will mainly feed on sand eels and young herring, which they plunge-dive to catch. The number of eggs they lay and the survival of their chicks will largely rely on the availability of food.

- Food will play a big part in the courtship dance of the little tern. It involves the male carrying a fish, both in aerial and ground displays. Females will respond to long, shiny fish, which the males will advertise by shaking them from side to side.

- Little terns do not breed until they are at least two years old - they will then spend their first summer in the West African wintering grounds.

- Little terns, as with all the terns that breed in the UK, with forked tails and this, together with their aerial acrobatics, giving them their old name of 'sea swallows'.

- The fast, strong flyers will have travelled over 100,000km during their lifespan.

Image courtesy of Lyn Ibbitson Elks





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