The Tern’s Vaudeville of the Air

(Note: A post I was drafting in August of 2011…the thread of thought is gone, but the Vaudeville of the Air lives on….)

When I was a kid, Admiral Donald MacMillan, skipper of the schooner Bowdoin, made at least two lecture stops at Beloit College to recount his explorations in the Arctic. He described in detail the habits of the puffin, the comical-looking bird with an orange beak that occupies the entire front of its head. I think it was his characterization of the puffin that got me to anthropomorphizing birds, a habit that is obviously not unique given the popularity of movies such as Madagascar and Happy Feet.

So when terns showed up on my morning walk a couple of years ago I was quite ready to give them the personalities that I felt they deserved. For one thing, they are showy fliers, capable of rapid direction changes and sudden turns. Their broad tail plumage is an active part of their navigational trickery.

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