The Tigertail Park lagoon site. Beach-goers accss the Gulf beach by wading across the lagoon, so this is an ideal spot for letting visitors know about beach-nesting birds. Gulf-side stewards walk out to a colony and talk to beach-goers there.
The lagoon stewarding site, viewed from the western shore of Tigertail Lagoon.
Stewards talking to beach-goers about nesting shorebirds.
Stewards keeping cool at the lagoon.
The largest Gulf-side colony of 2010, about halfway up Sand Dollar Island.
Stewards talking with beach-goers at the colony. A small sign (right) was placed just south of the southernmost colony to inform beach-goers of how to help the nesting birds when a steward wasn’t there.
Adult Least Tern.
Like Black Skimmers, Least Terns will mob (fly at and dive-bomb) intruders in their colonies, including people. Least Terns also display aggression by raising their wings, as they are here, where they are driving a ghost crab away from their nests.
These are Least Tern eggs. They easily blend into the sand. Clutch size varies from 1-3 eggs, with 4-egg clutches appearing rarely. Two or 3-egg clutches are most common. Like the other shorebirds nesting in Collier County, Least Terns make a minimalist nest, called a scrape, by scratching out a small depresion in the sand.
This Least Tern is shading its eggs. Without shading from parents, on a hot day eggs can overheat and become addled (no longer viable) in less than 10 minutes. Both parents incubate and shade eggs, and both attend and feed chicks.
Least Terns lay an egg about once a day until they complete the clutch. The egg that was laid first usually hatches first too.
A Least Tern chick at about one week or of age. It is just starting to acquire its juvenile plumage (look at its wing).
Adults and chicks recognize each other, and adults will peck and attack chicks that are not theirs if they wander too close.
Adults bring whole fish in to the colony to feed their chicks. This chick has its fish half swallowed. Tern and skimmer chicks of all ages beg for fish by hunching their wings and lowering their heads. While waiting for their parents’ return, they hide in the shade.
Chicks’ first line of defense is to hunker down in the sand to hide from predators. Because of this, it’s possible to accidentally step on one. As they get older, they are better at standing and running, like this chick.
Getting closer to fledging. The down on the head is the last to be lost.
A Least Tern fledgling. Parents continue to feed chicks after they fledge, since chicks need time to practice catching fish.
A Black Skimmer showing how the species earned its name. The lower mandible is shorter than the upper–unique in the bird world–and when they encounter a fish in the water, they snap their bill shut on it.
A Black Skimmer manipulating a needle fish it’s about to eat.
A Black Skimmer pair. Both birds will incubate and shade eggs, and both will tend and feed chicks.
Black Skimmer eggs. Clutch size is usually 3-4 eggs, although only the older chick tend to survive to fledging.
Black Skimmer chicks, about a week old. They are still in the nest scrape.
A Black Skimmer chick and one of its parents. Like the Least Terns, skimmers will peck chicks that don’t belong to them.
Older chicks, possibly siblings, waiting for a fish.
A very nearly or possibly recently fledged chick.
On some days, adults and older chicks like to stand on the shoreline to cool off.
A Black Skimmer fledgling demonstrating the classic skimmer pose: lying chest down on the sand like a dog.
An adult Wilson’s Plover. This is a female. Males have a black band at their chest.
Wilson’s Plovers feed on insects, crustaceans, and other invertebrates on the beach. One of their favorite foods at Tigertail Lagoon is fiddler crabs, which they charge at and capture in their bills. Here, one has scavenged a dead sand flea (also called sand crab), a small crab that lives in the surf zone.
The eggs of the Wilson’s Plover. They lay 2-4 egg clutches, with 3 being the most common number.
Like terns and skimmers, both sexes attend eggs and chicks.
If a predator (or a human) comes too close to the eggs or chicks, the adult will do a “broken-wing display,” trying to lure the threat away from the young by pretending to be injured.
Young Wilson’s Plover chicks must feed themselves from day one. They follow their parents from the nest to likely hunting grounds (usually the wrack line–debris deposited by the tide).
Older Wilson’s Plover chicks. The ever-watchful parents are never far away. They call the chicks with a high-pitched piping noise.
A fledgling Wilson’s Plover. Note the short, stubby tail and the light tan (buffy) edging on the feathers.