I’m not quite sure why I started thinking about Sooty Terns today, but once I did couldn’t get them out of my mind so I may as well harness that and do a post on them. They are, I think, the most numerous species of seabird in the tropical Pacific I haven’t done a post on yet. If not, then certainly the loudest. Their name in Hawaiian is ewa ewa, literally “cacophony”, and another name for the species is wideawake tern, which is how they’ll leave you at first. They manage this noise not only through individual effort but their habit of breeding in dense, large colonies. Such is the racket they make that the one time I entered a colony without earplugs I was actually disorientated after five minutes.
I spent time with the Sooty Terns when I worked on Tern Island in French Frigate Shoals, in the north of Hawaii. They utterly dominated the island in numbers, cramming 100,000 or so birds into the thin strip of land either side of the kilometer long runway. Everywhere you went, regardless of what species you were actually studying, you had to content with thousands of these little guys making their displeasure known to you. It’s hard to say if this made them any louder, as my ears can’t distinguish between loud and louder beyond a certain point, but they did certainly jab our feet with their bills; being isolated marine species they lacked the evolutionary knowledge to fly away from us.
Its easy to overheat, so the shade of a convenient Black-footed Albatross chick is sought-after.
Part of the reason for the aggression is that predators are around. A Great Frigatebird snatching a chick.
An albino Sooty Tern fledgling