Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

INCA TERN Series: LET'S TALK ABOUT BIRDS

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

INCA TERN Series: LET'S TALK ABOUT BIRDS

Article excerpt

The Inca tern is one eye-catching bird. It has a dark gray plumage and a brilliant red bill, legs and feet -- but the most striking feature is the bright white handlebar "moustache" of specialized feathers growing out from the fleshy yellow gape at the corners of its beak. It may look as though the moustache is nothing more than an unusual ornament shared by all members of the species, but scientists have learned that the length of an Inca tern's moustache is a reliable signal of its body condition, and that terns with longer moustaches tend to mate together and have more and larger chicks.

Inca terns nest along the west coast of South America from northern Peru to central Chile (roughly the extent of the ancient Inca Empire that gives the species its common name). This is where the cold nutrient-rich Humboldt current flows just off-shore, carrying with it swarms of small ocean fish such as anchovies. While you may enjoy eating these small fish once in a while, in a salad or on a pizza, for the Inca tern they are an essential diet staple. …

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