Little Tern Fishing Trip

By far my favourite of the terns at Rye Harbour are the Little Terns.  They are the logo of the reserve and have the most character out of all of them, often heard chattering away over the shingle ridges and seen battling the elements to find food close to the shoreline.  A recent session with the camera gave me quite a few good shots and I just wanted to share some of their fishing exploits with you.

little tern big-4

The small size and buoyant flight distinguish a Little Tern and they are often seen very close to shore, patrolling for fish.

little tern big-5

When they spot some suitable prey they hover 2-3m above the surface before they strike.

little tern dive

When they dive they keep their wings slightly open, adjusting their trajectory until the very last moment.

little tern dive-2

Then they’re in the water, stretching down with their sharp beaks to grab a small fish.


They will completely submerge themselves for about a second whilst they grab the fish, leaving a tell-tale splash on the surface

little tern fish

Then a few strong wing beats and they’re back in the air!

These tiny fish are eaten within seconds of being caught and are quite hard to spot without the help of a camera and some luck with the timing.  If something a little larger is caught it will be flown back around the colony as a trophy and either used to attract a mate or feed one as they prepare to lay this years eggs.

These pictures don’t really do justice to the mammoth task of fishing for Little Terns, it really has to be seen to be appreciated.  The shear speed and accuracy is impressive on a calm day but when you think of the storms and waves these birds face it makes you realise how tough they really are.

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