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Tara (juvenile plumage) - white-fronted tern - Sterna sriata | by Steve Attwood
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Tara (juvenile plumage) - white-fronted tern - Sterna sriata

The white-fronted tern or tara (Sterna striata) is the most common tern living along New Zealand coasts, and on the Chatham and Auckland islands. They have a narrow white band between their black cap and bill. Their body and sharply forked tail are white, and their wings are pale grey. They are 42 centimetres long and weigh about 160 grams. A flock of white-fronted terns diving into the sea can be a sign that kahawai fish are close by. The birds feed on small fish, such as pilchards and smelt, which the kahawai chase to the surface. White-fronted terns bred only in New Zealand until 1979, when they also began breeding on islands in Bass Strait, between Tasmania and Australia. In autumn, large numbers of young terns and some adults fly to Australia, returning in spring for the breeding season. They nest from October to January in large colonies on beaches, shingle banks or rock stacks. They lay one or two spotted, pale green-blue to light brown eggs. The young fly at 29–35 days. They can live to 26 years. The New Zealand population was reckoned at 15,000 to 20,000 pairs in 1997. The population seems to be declining rapidly, though accurate population estimates are difficult because colonies move and change. Threats include stoats, hedgehogs, rats, dogs and beach vehicles. A reduction of kahawai stocks may also be contributing to their decline.

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Taken on March 10, 2013