Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

The first Common Tern arrival in Argyll this year was recorded on 11th April at Ardrishaig by Alan Dykes. The next record wasn’t found until 15th April at Loch Bhasapol on Tiree by John Bowler, both single individuals.

The Common Tern is a medium-sized tern and the one you are most likely to see inland, as well as at the coast. Common Terns breed on shingle beaches, rocky islands and inland on the gravelly shores of lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and even purpose-built rafts. They are noisy in their colonies and, like most terns, will attack intruders threatening their nests. They hover over the water before plunge-diving to catch their fish prey.

Common Terns and Arctic Terns can be very difficult to tell apart. The Common Tern is whiter below, has shorter tail streamers, and has a longer bill, which is scarlet with a black tip. It is silvery-grey above, with a black cap and short, red legs. In flight the underwing has a broad blackish trailing edge, whereas this is missing on the Arctic Tern. Although the Arctic Tern does have a narrow dark trailing edge all its flight feathers are translucent The Common Tern’s long tail ‘streamers’ (feathers extending past the main tail) have earned it the nickname ‘Sea-swallow’. Where observers are unable to distinguish between these two species they are often referred to as “Comic Terns”.

Two Argyll Bird Club members Clive Craik and Robert Lightfoot constructed a large tern raft that was installed on Loch Creran because the now common American Mink had attacked so many land-based colonies. After repeated mink invasions they perfected the raft design with extra-strong floors and high fences to keep the predators out. They won a Nature of Scotland Award in 2013, for their endeavours.

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