The East Beach of Galveston Island seems to be an attractive hangout for shorebirds trying to fatten up on the easily caught fish in the shallow bays. But there was more than eating on the minds of the Royal Terns congregating there among the Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, Skimmers, and other small shorebirds.
What is going on with those crown feathers that look like mohawks on the two Terns on the right? Is that just wind, or some kind of social signal to other Terns?
There are definitely some preliminaries to courtship going on between the three terns in the foreground.
Terns doing a sort of funky high-step dance…
Now this is getting a little more serious, with a presumed male offering a freshly caught fish to a presumed female.
She is going to make him work for it, as she walks off, exhibiting her lack of interest in him, or the fish. Perhaps she just ate?
Courtship feeding is common in many bird species and is supposed to demonstrate to the female what a great hunter and provider the male is. In some cases, it may provide females with the extra protein and fat they need to produce a clutch of eggs after the energy drain of migration. However, in this case it may be that many suitors and many fish equals a disinterested partner.
[Note added: In cases where females have refused a fish, it was because it was too small!]
The objective of the ritual of courtship is to attract a compliant female to accept his gift of sperm. But not to attract a crowd of onlookers, like Laughing Gulls.
And so another foraging trip, to pick up another fish, as the Royal (Tern) courtship proceeds.