Those living in Europe fly over the coastal area each year from northern Europe to West and Southern Africa, in search of warmth in winter. In this journey, coasts and wetlands of the Canary Islands, are a must stop for these birds, although compared to the migration that exists in the African coast, in the Canary Islands we can say that this phenomenon is less relevant.
The Sandwich Tern belongs to the order of Charadriiformes, family Laridae, and it has an average size (41cm long and 94cm wingspan).
Its feathers are black, white and gray. Its round head has a kind of black bun (pileus), which in the mating season can cover almost its entire head. Its beak is long and black with yellow tip and its tail is forked.
The Sandwich Tern’s flight is similar to the gulls’, very agile and light, featuring longer and narrower wings though, which makes them more graceful.
They eat fish on the beaches and in coastal waters; also molluscs and marine worms. They don’t usually move beyond the continental shelf to forage, and once they have located their prey they pounce on it, plunging into the water.
The Sandwich Tern is a very sociable bird that usually creates dense colonies of thousands of individuals. Within the colony, each specimen with its partner lay their eggs (1 or 2) by the end of April or early May. They don’t build elaborate nests, they just use a hole in the gravel, sand or between two stones, and they usually cover it with vegetation.
Their eggs have a creamy colour with lots of black speckles, and they incubate them, both father and mother, for 22 to 26 days. 15 days after hatching chicks gather in groups that are watched by an adult, and 30 days later they fly the nest for the first time.
In Fuerteventura we find the Sandwich Tern in ponds, lagoons or lowlands, especially in the area of the beaches of Sotavento (Jandía), El Cotillo, Corralejo, Majanicho, and inland areas, like in Rosa Catalina Garcia, in Los Molinos Dam and in some ravines with permanent water.
Migration and presence on the islands
This bird is regular in this land, so we can find specimens on the islands in almost every month of the year, there are even some that spend the winter on our shores, but when we find the most of them is in autumn (August and September) when they come down to Africa searching winter warmth, and in spring (March and April), when they go back to northern Europe.
What determines how long these birds spend on our shores is the peace and quiet they find here and the availability of food to refuel and continue their journey. The manipulation of the environment by man, such as road building or construction, can modify the habitats of these species, by seeking best places to rest.