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This Week’s Creature Feature: Forster’s Tern

You’ll know this tern by its red-tipped bill and feet
     Here’s another tern to look sharp for in Chesapeake Country.
     Caspian terns visited Chesapeake Country in late April ­(www.bayweekly.com/node/48319). They have now moved on to their northern nesting grounds. Forster’s terns have moved in after spending winter along the southern coastline of the U.S. They are one of the more common terns along the Chesapeake and especially in the marshy areas of the Eastern Shore.  
     Forster’s terns are small, sharp-winged birds with red legs and a black-tipped pointed red bill.  They fly fast and erratically, diving on fish, shrimp and small crabs.
     In their time in Chesapeake Country, they’ll be nesting. The birds prefer to nest in marshy areas along the Bay. Quite often they make nests on floating vegetation or on top of muskrat lodges. At a nesting area, the males court the females by bringing them food.
     A brood is typically three chicks. The babies cannot fly for the first three weeks. When they are old enough to fly, they will copy their parents’ fishing techniques. Eventually, at the end of the summer, they will travel south as a family and stay together until next spring.  
      Forster’s terns have been recorded to live as long as 15 years but five to eight would be more typical. Their population declined due to human development in their nesting areas. Now, the U.S. population seems to have stabilized at about 50,000.