2022—A Losing Battle

It’s fascinating to watch birds eat fish whole, flipping and turning the fish so that it will enter the beak headfirst and, ideally, slide down the gullet with a couple of gulps. The adult Least Terns were ferrying their catch to their offspring in the nesting area on Duxbury Beach near Plymouth, Mass. This young Least Tern is already adept at flipping and maneuvering a small fish, whose life is gradually ebbing while the bird tries to swallow it whole. The little fish was in a losing battle but so too, as it turned out, was the small Tern. The bird was unable to swallow the fish but it put forth a valiant effort. We watched for a couple of minutes as the bird tried over and over to flip the fish up and into its beak, then gulping unsuccessfully to swallow it. By now the fish was completely coated with sand making it even more unlikely that the fish would just slip into the throat. Finally, the little fish was no longer flapping its tail in protest and the little Tern gave up too, unable to squeeze the fish into its throat. It left the fish on the sand and went in search of another.