Mystery Bird: Gull-billed Tern, Sterna nilotica

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[Mystery bird] Gull-billed Tern, Sterna nilotica, photographed at Bolivar Peninsula, Yacht Basin Road, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: Joseph Kennedy, 3 May 2008 [larger view].
Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/500s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
This stunning portrait is readily identified as [that] of a Gull-billed Tern. All the usual field guide characters are on display, but all we really need to see is a startlingly white tern with long black legs and a stout black bill.
What do you do when a bird is this easy to name? You don’t turn away and look for the next one; instead, this is when you start birding. Describe the shape of the bird; try to come up with words that describe your impressions. The impressions themselves will be useless if you can’t create labels for them. Don’t worry about whether your labels make sense to anyone else — they need to make sense to you if they are going to help you recall the image of the bird next time you see it. The words you choose don’t have to be “bird words,” either. For a great introduction to this aspect of birding, have a look at Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, which I’ve reviewed .. I’ll be interested to see what you come up with!
Review all mystery birds to date.


About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Gull-billed Tern, Sterna nilotica

  1. JPS says:

    I’ll say at first glance a laughing gull in non breeding plumage.

  2. Speaking of bird photography, have you seen this set of photos from the Daily Mail?
    I’ve never seen a heron eat something non-aquatic. Is that usual?

  3. Rick Wright says:

    Great Blue Herons–closely related to the Gray in the pictures–eat considerable terrestrial prey. Here in southeast Arizona they’re often out in the fields hunting cotton rats, and according to BNA, Microtus are among their most important foods in Idaho and British Columbia.

  4. travelgirl says:

    i have photos of herons taking or attempting everything from salmon (2-3 times the total weight of the heron itself) to norway rats (which are also not small prey)… as someone else has pointed out, virtually anything that wanders nearby will probably be tried. frogs and small birds (nestlings, especially) are also fair game…

  5. i also have watched herons eating a wide variety of “food items” — rats being foremost among them.

  6. A blue heron hangs around the lake near my office, but I’ve only ever seen it catch fish (small carp, mostly), turtles and frogs. Rats and rabbits – that’s news to me. Thanks for the info, everyone!

  7. Alan Kellogg says:

    I’m thinking a shearwater myself, but I shall not fuss be I proven wrong.

  8. Hilary says:

    Looks like a gull-billed tern – it’s shaped like a tern wearing somebody else’s beak, just like in Sibley’s pic….

  9. The Ridger says:

    Around here, the great blues fly over the suburbs and take ornamental fish out of garden ponds. People are annoyed – but they’re the ones putting out the buffets!
    (anyone notice I didn’t try to guess the bird? No? Good!)

  10. JohnB says:

    non-breeding Gull-Billed Tern.