Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dinner Time for Seabirds

Sunset means dinnertime for seabirds (actually ANYTIME is dinnertime for hungry birds). I drove out to Sunset Beach on Treasure Island to watch the sunset, and found lots of jumping baitfish being pursued by gulls, terns, and black skimmers. A seagull caught a fish that was almost too big to swallow. The bird played with it for a long time (a live, flopping fish is hard to swallow).

Of course there are risks that come with trying to hold onto a fish when there are other hungry birds around. A willet kept sneaking up behind the gull and made an unsuccessful grab for the gull's fish.

Finally, the gull managed to swallow the fish. That was quite a meal. A few minutes later a black skimmer caught a fish and fumbled with it for several minutes before abandoning it.

A hungry willet ran over and tried to claim it, but a willet's beak just isn't designed to eat relatively large fish.

Finally, the willet lost interest and I walked over to see why the skimmer abandoned its catch. I picked up the little fish and it became immediately apparent why the skimmer did not eat it. Here is the fish:

I noticed that the little fish had very sharp and very stiff spines on top of its body and underneath. Many fish have spiny fins, but they generally fold back against the fish's body rather easily when it is dead. The spines on this fish were rigid and would have damaged the bird's throat.

All of the photos above, except the ones of the fish, were captures from my video camera, so they are not the highest quality. Later I'll post the video of the birds and the fish.

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