Florida is one of the few states where birders can view unusual seabirds such as this Brown Noddy that occurs worldwide in tropical oceans, including the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. In the continental U.S. Noddies nest on just one island in the Dry Tortugas National Park. Photographer Dawn Curie visited there and found these Brown Noddies courting – the head-nodding and stretching gave them their common name. The male chases the female in the air. She flies down to beg for food, pecking the male’s beak, and he responds by regurgitating and sharing small fish or squid. Then they preen each other before mating. Curie used a Canon T4i, Tamron SP 150-600mm lens at 500mm, 1/1000 sec f/8, ISO 200 to photograph these Noddies performing the same ritual as their ancestors on a sand bridge linking Garden Key to isolated Bush Key where thousands of Brown Noddy nest. These colonial nesters find safety in numbers where there are many eyes are alert for dangers, and many available to mob predators.
The subtle beauty of the black eye and beak contrasts with the white eye-line shading to gray and their graceful necks extend in this mating ritual attracts us to these tern-like seabirds. Unlike terns and many seabirds, Noddies swim on the water and surface feed. Noddies lay a single egg. For most bird species usually only the female has a brood patch (bare skin dense with blood vessels that gives warmth incubating the egg), but both Noddy parents have one. They take two-hour turns keeping the chick warm, safe, and fed even several months after fledging. With such good parenting, most chicks survive the first year, yet do not mature sexually for three to seven years. They can live until 22 years, returning to the same nest site, year after year.
Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society