Royal Tern (Sterna maxima) chick diet at Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, was investigated in 2003 and 2004. Primary objectives were to document common prey species, annual and seasonal variation in prey selection, and seasonal variation in prey size based on average bill length in this species. Over 2200 Royal Terns bred on this island each year of the study. Single items of prey species carried in the bill by adult terns feeding their chicks were identified using 8 × 42 binoculars. A total of 11,566 and 33,646 prey items were identified during 44 and 87.5 h of systematic observations in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Terns foraged largely on anchovy (Anchoa spp.) early in the season, then switched to herrings (Clupeidae); average prey size also increased seasonally each year. Prey switching was similar to that of Royal Terns in North Carolina (but with drum as well as herring), indicating regional adaptations to forage fish availability by this species along the mid-Atlantic seaboard.
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Vol. 29 • No. 3