Gygis alba (Sparrman, 1786)
White Tern

Always a favorite, White Terns are common throughout the year in the Marshalls. Since the feral cats were mostly removed in the 1990s, White Terns have begun raising chicks on Kwajalein Island once again. They do not form real nests, but rather lay their egg in branches of a tree, where the chick hatches out with strong feet and holds on until it is old and large enough to fly away on its own. It seems a very curious bird and will watch people from above. Charles Darwin himself, in his book The Voyage of the Beagle, said of these birds: "But there is one charming bird: it is a small, snow-white tern, which smoothly hovers at the distance of a few feet above one’s head, its large black eye scanning, with quiet curiosity, your expression. Little imagination is required to fancy that so light and delicate a body must be tenanted by some wandering fairy spirit." Indeed. These birds are sometimes called Fairy Terns, possibly derived from Darwin's quote, but a different bird from the southern hemisphere is more commonly called a Fairy Tern, so most birders refer to Gygis alba as a White Tern.

Ahhhh, pure pleasure!

A chick on a branch, probably right where it had hatched out of its egg.

The same chick two weeks later, still not flying.

Created 25 January 2018

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