Least Terns are the only species of tern that breed in Collier County, but they are not the only species of tern that can be seen on Sand Dollar, especially on mudflats on the lagoon side.
Royal Terns breed elsewhere in Florida, but some non-breeding individuals spent their summer in Collier County. Now more are arriving from their breeding grounds, including fledglings. The adults can be recognized by their large orange bills. The bird on the left in this photo is a juvenile that hatched this year. The other two are adults in their winter plumage.
These are Sandwich Terns in their winter plumage. Like the Royal Terns, they breed elsewhere in Florida and will winter here. To remember how to identify them, just associate “sandwich” with “mustard” and think of the yellow tip on their bills. The pictured birds are adults in winter plumage, while the young of the year will have some speckling like the juvenile Royal Tern.
If you are watching a flock of terns, you can try to pick out the fledgling-parent duos: an adult with a fledgling standing very close by. Some young birds are still hanging around their parents and begging in the hunched-up posture. The really insistent ones also “nag” their parents by cheeping at them. It’s comical to watch the parent birds ignore–or try to ignore–the chicks.
Other species of shorebirds are starting to return as well, including Laughing Gulls, Western and Least Sandpipers, Willets, and Snowy Plovers. They add variety and interest to the end of the nesting season and can be seen at the lagoon and on the Gulf. More on them later!