Sooty Tern Gathering
Dry Tortugas NP

 

 

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Sooty Tern Gathering in the Tortugas

One of Florida's great wildlife spectacle is the gathering of an estimated 100,000 nesting sooty terns on Bush Key in Dry Tortugas National Park.

Boat landings are forbidden on Bush Key during the nesting period March to September.

However, you can readily see the massive rookery from the fort with binoculars.

The females lay a single egg in a depression in the sand. Both parents take turns shading the egg and in protecting their offspring from magnificent frigate birds that prey on tern hatchlings.

Mixed in with the nesting sooties are some 2,500 breeding brown noddies. The noddies are no competition for space since they nest off the ground, in the branches of bay cedar and sea lavender.

During this time you may also see masked and brown boobies, roseate terns, double-crested cormorants and brown pelicans.

Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles west of Key West, is one of the country's least accessible parks. It can be reached only by boat or seaplane.

The Audubon Society conducts guided trips to the park during April and May, an excellent time to learn more about sooties and Florida birding in general.

However, you can visit by fast ferry anytime.

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