Bird Island’s 2016 Sooty Tern hatch begins

A parent defends the first Sooty Tern chick we have seen in 2016
A parent defends the first Sooty Tern chick we have seen in 2016 (Chris Feare)

An exciting day! During our morning check of Sooty Terns whose nests we have marked, and where one member of each pair is ringed so that we can record the duration of their incubation shifts , we discovered the first chick of the 2016 breeding season!

A nearby egg was “pipped”, in other words it had a small hole in the shell at the broad end where an unhatched chick was cutting its way out into the wide world. 28 days of patient incubation is nearing its end for this egg, and for many others.

My leg after a monitoring session in the colony as eggs are about to hatch
My leg after a monitoring session in the colony as eggs are about to hatch (Christine Larose)

This explains why the adults are now so aggressive. Hatching is a sensitive time and parents are especially defensive, against intruders such as ourselves and also against nosy neighbours. The latter sometimes peer at the new arrival and, if the parent is busy pecking at another bird, can give the chick a harsh peck. In the colony at this time we are under a constant barrage of thumps on the head and pecks at the ankles. This can be very painful but is a price we have to pay to investigate the lives of the ocean wanderers at a time when they have to spend time on land, and feel most vulnerable in our presence.

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