Breeding ecology of the Little Tern 4: Feeding

on 31st December 2006

The plumage of the Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) during the breeding season shows a prominent black cap on the head and a yellow bill tipped with black (above). The plumage of the juvenile is distinct from that of the adult (below).

Normally all the birds would be facing the persistent wind direction, be it morning or evening. Hence, the adults always got into a bit of trouble positioning themselves for landing in the mornings. Fish was sometimes dropped as a result. Passing on the fish to the juvenile were mostly done without problems in the evenings.

The juveniles were normally near-hysterical whenever the parent arrived with fish (above). They would wave their wings to attract the attention of the arriving parent. The other juveniles normally remained patient and waited their turns. The parent that was keeping an eye on the juveniles would then fly off to get food for the other chick. Should the other chick managed to snatch the fish, the rightful chick would normally chased it around until the fish was dropped and retrieved it.

Originally the chicks were fed with bits and pieces of fish. As the chicks grew they were slowly fed the entire fish caught by the parents (above). The parent bird would hold the fish just behind the head and direct it into the gaping mouth of the juvenile, head first. This would prevent the sharp spines of the fins damaging the throat as the fish slithered down the throat into the stomach.

With a larger fish it was not possible to place it inside the gape. The juvenile had to receive the fish, gripping it just below the head. It then had to manipulate the fish so that it was swallowed head-first (below).

Courtship feeding, as described earlier (a, b) continued throughout this period when the parents were continuously feeding the juveniles.

Input and images by Dr Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong.

Note: The complete account of the breeding ecology of the Little Tern has been published in the online journal, Nature in Singapore. A PDF copu is available HERE.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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