Although it's almost as big as the large gulls of the Pacific Northwest--and will often mix with them during Metro Vancouver summers--one look at the Caspian Tern, and you know it's clearly not a gull. Its fire engine red dagger of a bill, and the cap of black feathers that covers the top half of its head are two of the field marks that set it apart from other similarly-sized seabirds.
Still 50 feet away in the sunset at Boundary Bay Regional Park on August 22, 2016. Both the Caspian Terns I saw sported multiple leg bands on both legs! © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.
You won't find it dining on scraps at the landfill, either. Like the Belted Kingfisher, the Caspian Tern has a hankering for sashimi, although the latter prefers to fish in open waters. This superb hunter will sight its prey from 20-30 feet above the water's surface, and do a sheer vertical dive into the water to snatch its meal. 9 times out of 10, it will resurface with a wriggling comestible.
A little afternoon delight? this is no time for hanky panky. okay, maybe it is ... at the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty on July 17, 2015 © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.
Caspian Terns have extreme personal space issues -- at least, when it comes to the paparazzi. Once they've spotted you (usually from 100 feet away), they'll quietly and singly make their exits (unless, of course, they have a nest in the area; then, they may visit a vengeance of Angry Birds caliber on your head if you get too close. No, I'm not speaking from personal experience).
A Caspian Tern takes flight at the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty on July 17, 2015 © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved.
As with many birds, timing and opportunity are everything. This was my situation when I wandered into a baker's dozen of them--the largest flock of Caspian Terns I have encountered to date--at the local beach last summer. I never got closer than 70 feet--but it was still an amazing encounter (click on the image below or this link to see a larger version of the encounter). Learn more about the Caspian Tern by visiting its Cornell Lab of Ornithology allaboutbirds.org profile here. ✍️
Published by Hui Sim