A Royal Tern is a welcome and rare visitor at Barr Lake northeast of Denver and home to Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory’s headquarters. Since first sighted on July 29 by Steve Mlodinow, this tern has shown off its bright orange bill to many interested gawkers.
To pay homage to the visiting royalty, park at the Barr Lake Visitor Center (parks pass required) and walk west across the bridge and into the lake. This will be easy as the lake is very low. When your feet get wet, start scanning sandbars and other landing zones. Or, you may be lucky enough to see the tern fishing.
Normally flying in the U.S. only along the eastern and California coastlines, this species has now been recorded in Colorado just three times. Males and females can distinguish each other, fortunately, but we humans can’t tell them apart without, ahem, invasive procedures. Though rare birds are typically juveniles who haven’t yet learned how to use their GPS devices, we can say that our visitor is an adult bird who has put away his breeding plumage for the season. It was a minor change of costume – basically switching to a lighter weight hat.
Terns are the sleek members of the gull family. Note the pointed bill, wings and tail, which is forked. The royal is much more acrobatic than the slightly smaller ring-billed gulls with which it will associate on the beach. It’s exciting to watch it plunge dive for its dinner, going headlong into the water. Royalty, of course, dislikes stooping to eat commoners’ food, such as beach garbage.
~ Larry Modesitt, Chairman, Rocky Mountain Bird Observator