Sooty Tern

A species of many names, these cacophanous "wide-awake" terns are known to catch up on their sleep while flying

Sooty Tern

Region: Antarctica

Destinations: Ascension Island

Name: Sooty Tern, Wideawake Tern, Ewa Ewa, Common Tern, Kaveka, Egg-bird, Whale Bird (Onychoprion fuscatus)

Length: 35 centimetres.

Weight: 150 to 240 grams.

Location: Tropical oceans worldwide.

Conservation status: Least Concern.

Diet: Fish, small squid.

Appearance: Black back and head, white undersides. Forked tail. Black tail and legs. White patch over bill.

How do Sooty Terns feed?

Sooty Terns are shallow hunters, picking their food out from just under the surface of the water. They can often be seen flocking around an area where larger undersea predators have driven prey fish to the surface.

Are Sooty Terns social?

Sooty Terns are quite social. Their pelagic (life at sea) activities are hard to study, but when they come ashore for breeding season they can form colonies that number over 1 million individuals.

How fast do Sooty Terns fly?

Sooty terns can reach speeds of up to 40 km per hour.

What are Sooty Tern birthing rituals like?

Sooty Terns become sexually mature at around 6 years of age. Breeding season depends on the particular nesting sites location; some nesting sites are home for year-round breeding.

The Terns spend most of their lives at sea, coming into land for breeding season. They arrive on land about 2 months before the eggs are laid, choosing to make their nesting colonies on coral or rock-covered islands. Nests are built in slight depressions or holes in the ground.

Courtship takes place both in the air and on the ground where the birds will strut and bow to each other.

1 to 3 (usually 1) eggs are laid each season. The incubation period, handled by both of the parents, takes about 1 full month. When the weather gets too hot the parents will take turns shading the eggs with their bodies.

Once hatched, the parents will bring back regurgitated fish for the chick for the next 2 months, at which point the young will fledge. After their first flight the juveniles will stay around the colony for another 2 or 3 weeks; the colony then heads back to the sea.

How long do Sooty Terns live?

Sooty Terns live about 30 years in the wild.

How many Sooty Terns are there today?

Global estimates place the world’s Sooty Tern population at over 21,000,000.

Do Sooty Terns have any natural predators?

Sooty Tern nesting sites are vulnerable to rats and cats. Nesting colonies on Bird Island were lost to invasion from the Anoplolepis longipes species of ants.

7 Stupendous Sooty Tern Facts

1. The name “Wideawake Tern” comes from the never-ending calls coming from a colony of the birds.

2. The Hawaiin name “Ewa Ewa” basically means “cacophony.”

3. Sooty Terns spend the vast majority of their lives at sea. They can stay away from land (aside from breeding) for up to 10 years.

4. However they do sometimes get blown onto land by the weather.

5. Sooty Terns will sometimes take 1 or 2-second naps while flying. This is necessary since they don’t float and don’t have anywhere to land to sleep while at sea.

6. Sooty Tern feathers are not waterproof and they can become waterlogged, so they spend a great amount of their time at sea constantly on the wing.

7. Sooty Tern colonies are so noisy that it is against OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration of the U.S.) standards for workers to be exposed to the noise for longer than half an hour.   

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