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Bird sightings: Caspian tern

Published May 9, 2011 10:03 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sterna caspia

Richard Young recently observed and photographed an unusual Caspian tern at a community fishing pond in Sandy. Birding is the fastest-growing hobby in America. The advent of digital photography is making a remarkable impact on recording and documenting what birders are observing in the field. Photographs revealed that it was a very unusual tern indeed, with colorful leg bands.

Community fishing ponds designed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to attract anglers are also attracting a host of birds and birders like Young, whose images bring these beautiful birds to life for others to enjoy who may not be able to see them in person.

Ornithologists often band birds to study migration patterns and other range needs of particular bird species. The US Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory keeps the rec­ords of banded birds. Recovery and/or observation of banded birds is always hoped for to advance the research, but recovery rates are very low. It is not easy to recapture an adult bird that is able to fly.

Bands for larger birds like Canada geese or swans can be neck collars with larger alphanumeric characters that can be read at a distance with a spotting scope or visible in a photograph. Young was photographing the Caspian tern, one of the larger terns occurring in the West. Later when reviewing photo detail on his computer, he saw that his tern images included multiple colored leg bands.

John Cavitt of Weber State University Zoology Department saw Young's report of the banded tern and sent the information to an Oregon team he knew was studying terns. Yasuko Suzuki, a member of the Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University, confirmed that the tern photographed by Young had been banded as a chick in June 2005 at Crescent Island in the Columbia River near Pasco, Wash. Suzuki reported that this is the first record of a banded Caspian tern from this project observed In Utah.

Visit this link to report a banded bird should you have the good fortune to see one: http://www.reportband.gov/recwobnd.cfm

Caspian tern is the largest tern and distinguished by its large size, stout red-orange bill and tail forked to a quarter of its length. It is 19-23 inches long with a wingspan of 55 inches. It has a black cap that covers the head. The upper parts are a pale gray and the under parts are white. The legs and feet are black. The primaries are a dark gray on the underside. They are found along coastal regions and inland along major river systems, like the Columbia. They occur along large reservoirs in Utah where suitable prey fish species are available.

Bill Fenimore is owner of the Wild Bird Center in Layton, http://www.wildbird.com/layton, author of the Backyard Birds of Utah and member of the Utah Wildlife Board.