Friday, October 1, 2010

Bird of the month: Inca Tern

The Inca Tern (Larosterna inca) is surely the most beautiful of the terns. An endemic breeder of the Humboldt current of South America, this attractive bird rarely wanders out of its usual distribution. Panama is one of the few countries were this bird show up as a vagrant, usually under abnormal conditions. Back in the summer of 1983 - 1984, an unusual severe El Niño phenomenon (which heat up the usually cold Humboldt current) produced an invasion of this tern at our coasts. Back then, probably thousands of those birds visited the Bay of Panama for several months, but eventually died or dispersed. There is also an unconfirmed record from coastal Herrera province (at El Agallito beach, Azuero Peninsula) during El Niño in 1998 according to Xenornis. Then, an adult Inca Tern was the first bird to accompany us during a pelagic birding trip off Punta Mala, at the tip of the Azuero Peninsula. These birds are readily identified by its all dark plumage, its erratic flight and by the white edge to the wings. The ornaments of its head and the red bill is evident with the bird at close range, otherwise are inconspicuous and even absent in immatures birds. I had the opportunity to see this bird in its natural range at coastal Lima, Peru. There, flocks, often with thousands of birds, feed in nearshore waters, sometimes accompanied by other species, like Kelp and Belcher's Gulls (like in my photo from El Callao, Lima). Because of its rarity (in Panama) and beauty (everywhere) is why we choose the Inca Tern as our bird of the month.
Literature consulted:
1. Ridgely RS, Gwynne JA. A Guide to the Birds of Panama. 1993.
2. Schulenberg TS, Stotz DF, Lane DF, O'Neill JP, Parker III TA. The Birds of Peru. Revised and updated edition. 2010.

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