Ring-billed Gull © Perry Doggrell


Gulls and Terns ply the waters both near and offshore for small fish. Gulls fly with their heads looking forward while terns fly with bills pointing downward as they look for prey. Gulls pick their prey from the surface while terns plunge into the water to capture small fishes. Winter, when four species can be found in coastal waters, is the best time to observe gulls. Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring and Bonaparte’s Gulls are occasionally, but infrequently, joined by vagrant species. As many as nine species of gulls have been found in this area in winter. Only two species of terns breed here, each nesting in shallow scrapes directly on the sand and in colonies.

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Herring Gull © Perry Doggrell

The tiny Least Tern, whose status is considered threatened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, is the most common in late spring and summer. They will aggressively dive-bomb people walking or bicycling near the breeding colonies. Gull-billed Terns breed sparingly near the Least Tern colonies on which they occasionally predate.

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Least Tern © Harry Purcell

Black Skimmers are closely related to terns, and nest in colonies similar to Least Terns. Their bills are unique among all the birds with a longer lower mandible. The skimmer flies silently along the surface and drags the lower bill, the mandible, in the water. Upon touching a fish, the bill snaps shut securing a wriggling morsel for a meal. Skimmers occasionally rest their heads and bills – red with black tips – directly on the sand, looking as if they are incapacitated.

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Black Skimmer © John Powanda

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