Last week I had a chance to get a boat ride out on Pamlico Sound to a spoil island near Hatteras Inlet.
Spoil islands are man made from sand dredged to maintain the ferry channel between Hatteras and Ocracoke.
These “engineered” islands make good habitat for nesting terns and other colonial waterbirds, like Black Skimmers.
With the Summer season drawing to a close, nesting is done.
Lots of activity still prevails, and the mature birds continue to catch fish for growing juveniles.
The adults are loosing their handsome breeding appearance in favor of less dramatic winter plumage.
An adult sandwich tern, in non-breeding plumage, brings its catch in for a family member.
This island has a mix of Royal Terns and Sandwich Terns.
Adult Royal Terns have orange bills, and their juveniles have yellow bills.
Mature Sandwich Terns have black bills with yellow tips.
Their corresponding juvenile’s bills are dark and less distinctive.
Next Spring the tern population will renew the species once again,
looking their best in bright breeding plumage.