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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Baby Tern Goes Exploring

Air Date: Week of

A fluffy tern chick goes exploring at the water’s edge. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

On Falkner Island off the coast of Connecticut, new tern parents can raise their offspring in peace, thanks to the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But as Living on Earth’s Resident Explorer Mark Seth Lender describes, one adventurous baby tern gives his anxious parents a fright as he sets out to dip his little feet into the ocean.


CURWOOD: We head to the seashore now with our explorer in residence, Mark Seth Lender. Falkner Island off the Connecticut shore is only four and a half acres in size, but has one of largest roseate and common tern colonies in the East. Officials go to great lengths to protect the terns, by keeping people, pets, and predators away, but Mark got permission to visit with his camera. And there he saw the anxieties of parenting that can be common to many species.

Baby Has New Shoes
Common Tern, Falkner Island © 2016 Mark Seth Lender All Rights Reserved

A flustered tern parent appears to chide its offspring. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

LENDER: Like baby in his baby shoes, Tern is going for a walk. The way some kids do without holding onto a hand, without looking back.

But there are no shoes! His little feet are webbed like his Mom and Pops (bright orange-red and not quite steady as he walks). He is heading out all by himself. And does not pause and will not stop. The stubs that will be wings wheel and shy like little arms. He hops, over the flotsam of green seaweed. He drops, into the jangle of dried reeds, and crosses the tideline.

Tern egg among dried seaweed and stones. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

All dandelion fluff round as a puffball soft as fleece, small enough to fit in the pocket of your blouse -- there he goes! Along the reach of rustling pebbles and slipper shells, off to dip his new toes in the little waves that wash up on the beach.

Meanwhile, Mom and Pops don’t like any of this. They leave the nest and close upon his unsteady heels, flapping and whistling and calling him back, “Wait up, kid, you’re gonna hurt yourself! You’re not ship-shape, your tail’s out of trim. You can’t get out if you fall in!”

Mom lands on a rock that towers over him.

Pop cries out from the shore: “Whatcha thinkya doin out there!”

Threats and entreaties Kid Tern ignores as he touches, and tastes, where the ocean gently roars. We’ve all been there. That time of life. We knew better than anyone; anyone put there to tell us no. Our yes was so much stronger than that. We were sure, we had no fear.


An adult tern flies off with a fish. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

CURWOOD: Mark Seth Lender recorded these terns at Falkner Island, and for pictures, wing on over to our website, LOE.org.




To learn more about Falkner Island and the work of the USFWS, visit Mark’s website

USFWS Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Reserve


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