Earlier this week, I made my way down to Bonaire’s southwestern coast, as it had been some time since I was there. I hoped to be able to spot some tern chicks, but what actually happened was much more exciting!
As I drove south, a small rain squall moved quickly across the island’s southern half, providing a beautiful rainbow. As I pulled off to the side of the road to take an image, I playfully thought to myself that perhaps I’d find some tern chicks at the end of the rainbow. Instead, I did find a birder’s equivalent to the ol’ pot of gold, and that was the rare Brown Noddy!
About the Brown Noddy.
The Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus) is a seabird in the family Laridae. The largest of the noddies, it can be distinguished from its close relative, the Black Noddy, by its larger size and plumage, which is dark brown rather than black. The Brown Noddy is a tropical seabird with a worldwide distribution, ranging from Hawaii to Australia in the Pacific Ocean, from the Red Sea to the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, and here, in the entire Caribbean region.
What’s so rare about a bird that inhabits the globe’s tropics?
The reason the Brown Noddy is considered rare, at least here on Bonaire, is that it is hardly ever encountered on land.
The Brown Noddy is 38–45 cm (15–18 in) in length with a wingspan of 75–86 cm (30–34 in). The plumage is a dark chocolate-brown with a pale-grey or white crown and forehead. It has a narrow incomplete white eye-ring. The tail is long and wedge-shaped, and the feet and legs are dark.
The Brown Noddy usually nests on elevated situations on cliffs or in short trees or shrubs. It only occasionally nests on the ground. A single egg is laid by the female of a pair each breeding season. The nest itself is usually a platform nest, made of sticks and twigs.
In their nuptial displays, the female and male bow and nod to each other, hence its name. Courtship feeding and flights accompany this, as is seen in other terns, in addition to the transfer of a small, freshly caught fish from the male to the female.
This bird will lay a clutch of one pink cream egg with lilac and chestnut maculation. The egg usually measures around 52 by 35 millimeters (2.0 by 1.4 in). The egg is incubated by both sexes for 33 to 36 days, with each parent incubating for one or two days while their mate is feeding at sea. After the chick hatches, it grows quickly; usually reaching the weight of the parents in three weeks. Once it fledges, about six to seven weeks after hatching, it can sometimes weigh more than the parents, although this weight is lost quickly once it starts to fly. At this point, the fledgling is starting to rely on its parents less and less as it learns how to provide for itself.
In this area, breeding has been recorded on the island of Aruba, but not here on Bonaire.
The Brown Noddy forages by swooping over the water and dipping down to catch small squid and fish.
Bonaire is seeing unusual terns this summer.
It was only a few weeks ago that the rare vagrant White-winged Tern was observed for about a week on Bonaire, and now we have the Brown Noddy. Perhaps, with the island closed for tourism due to COVID-19 over the last four months, we are seeing nature take back its prior habitat. I must admit, it’s nice to see nature recovering from human interference.
About the author
Susan Davis has been living on Bonaire for over 25 years. She is a certified bird guide, a PADI SCUBA Diving Master Instructor, and an underwater and topside photographer.