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Fairy Terns Playing the Mating Game (34)
Janice Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3277 W: 148 N: 6163] (18832)
Fairy Terns
Gygis alba

Sorry people, but I only had my Canon EF 24-105mm lens with me when I was photographing these birds. I wished I’d had my 70-300 lens. Even better, I wish I’d had Pam’s 100-400 lens with me!! And better still, Howard’s new camera would have better even better!! But I didn’t. . .

P I T Y, but this is as good as I could capture them.


Norfolk Islanders know when Spring has arrived when many pairs of white sea birds arrive around August, September. Usually they arrive in pairs, and are seen over the island and water courting in wonderful aerial flights, wheeling in such unison that they seem controlled by a single brain. The islanders will tell you gravely that this propensity to fly in pairs is because "one good tern deserves another".

These delightful, graceful creatures are known on Norfolk Island as Fairy Terns. Snow-white but for their black bills, feet and eyes, and they have translucent wings. . . The terns normally leave the island in May to spend several months at sea, constantly on the wing.

Fairy terns are small, robin-sized birds with long wings. They have no natural enemies, and generally they are gentle, tame and trusting. They live on remote tropical islands in the Pacific, Indian and South Atlantic Oceans, out-of-the-way spots some people equate with paradise.

They are categorised as pelagic birds - living in the open ocean - and usually only come ashore to breed. Often at dusk and dawn, they skilfully forage for small fish and squid – diving from the sky to dip their beaks below the surface, but without immersing their bodies. They are known to catch flying-fish on the wing – a clever talent. They carry several fish at a time crosswise in their bills when ferrying food back to their hungry young.

But what is so special about these wonderful birds is that Fairy Terns build no nest and lay a single egg in a slight indentation in the branch of a Norfolk Pine or White Oak.

It was once thought that they used mucilage, a thick gluey substance produced by most plants and some microorganisms, to assist the egg to adhere to the branch but this has been found to be untrue.

The mother will somehow incubate the egg without dislodging it - but to leave the branch she drops off backwards. How the chicks hatch safely on this precarious perch is a source of great wonderment.

Check out the workshop for a close up of a pair on the tree branch. These were the pair in the photo – they had been dancing in the air together and were now resting on the branch of a Norfolk Pine. It was very high up too.

Altered Image #1

Janice Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3277 W: 148 N: 6163] (18832)
Pair ready to mate
Edited by:Janice Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3277 W: 148 N: 6163] (18832)

But what is so special about these wonderful birds is that Fairy Terns build no nest and lay a single egg in a slight indentation in the branch of a Norfolk Pine.

Males and females share the responsibility for incubating a chick – each pair produces only one per season. They do not construct a nest – rather, they choose a suitably high branch in a Norfolk Island pine, generally located in a forested stand near the shore, and clear a small indentation of its bark. The female lays the speckled egg straight on the bough – and if the pair has done its homework, it will stay put until hatching time about twenty-eight days later.