Thursday, April 14, 2016


The small bird in the center of the image below is a Whiskered Tern.

I saw it on a beach in Cape May, New Jersey on September 20, 2014.

It's relatively small, has a black cap, a reddish bill, and is overall grayish (bigafy the image to see it).

And it doesn't belong on this beach. In fact, it is only the third member of its species to be recorded in North America, the previous sightings being in 1993 and 1998 (both also in Cape May). It belongs in Eurasia. And that can be a problem.

If a bird is this far from home it may be because its internal "GPS" is broken. This is likely the case with birds that arrive here in New Jersey in the fall from western North America. Their internal compass may be 90° off, thus instead of flying south they fly east. And after passing through New Jersey they continue out to sea, thinking they are heading across the Gulf of Mexico when actually flying out over the Atlantic Ocean. The ending is generally not a happy one.

The situation with the tern may not be as dire. Terns are long distance fliers, Whiskered Terns migrate up to 5000 miles each year. Thus this one may return south and cross the Atlantic to Africa. No worse off than any of the many others who visit to Cape May each year.

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