Since 2017, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has hatched 8 Inca tern chicks. Inca terns are medium-sized and somewhat colorful sea birds that are piscivores. Meaning, they primarily consume a variety of fish. When hunting for prey in the wild, they swoop down from the air to snatch small fish just below the water's surface. Here at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, their favorite fish are silversides. However, their favorite treat is a bug called the superworm.
Inca Tern Chicks
The Inca tern's most distinctive feature is their fancy white handlebar mustache. Scientists have hypothesized that the length of the Inca tern’s mustache may dictate the health of the bird; the longer the stash, the healthier the bird.
Photo of Inca Tern Adult by Brenden Scott
If you have visited our Emerald Forest Aviary before, you may have heard their very loud, high pitch laughing or cackling vocalizations. They are especially noisy during courtship, which is a rather lovely mate-selection ritual. It starts by the male ascending in flight at very high speeds to show off to the female. If the female seems intrigued, she will chase after him. Together, they will do a little dance in the sky. The male will also display his diving skills and offer fish as a gift. The act helps the female determine if he has what it takes to provide for her and her chicks in the future. After the female accepts her gift, both will choose a nest site together and continue their courtship on the ground by strutting, twirling, head bobbing, and vocalizing in unison.
Juvenile Inca Tern
In their natural habitat, Inca terns prefer the rocky cliffs and coastlines of Peru and Chile. They also nest together in large colonies in which their nests are made from burrows on rocky cliffs and crevices. The cavities used are quite deep to protect their eggs and chicks from predators. Inca terns are also known to nest in vacated Humbolt penguin nests. Both parents work as a team to protect their chicks. The female will lay anywhere from 1 – 3 light or dark brown spotted eggs. While Inca terns are considered a monogamous species, they are not necessarily monogamous for a lifetime but rather for a nesting season or more.
Inca Tern Adult with Juveniles
Here at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, we created burrows and placed nestboxes in an area where the birds will lay their eggs and raise their chicks comfortably. According to IUCN, Inca terns are listed as a Near Threatened species due to overfishing of their food sources. Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens participates in the Species Survival Plan for Inca terns to help ensure their survival. You can spot these birds in our Emerald Forest Aviary located in the Range of the Jaguar. We hope to see you soon!
Written by Roxanne Fleming, Bird Keeper