Air Date: 03-Aug-21
Scientist: Helen Hays
TERNS- Elephants and Orvilles
ambience: Tern adults and chicks
This month, thousands of baby Common Tern chicks are on hatching on Great Gull Island, off the coast of Connecticut. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Helen Hays is Director of the Great Gull Island Project. Every summer, for the past three decades, she has watched the Terns grow from elephants into Orvilles. Wait a minute – elephants? Orvilles?
Hays: Well, we call them elephants before they fly because they’re large and gray and we get so used to looking at chicks and chicks grow very quickly into elephants and so it’s quite a surprise to look down and see this large gray thing at your feet. And that’s an elephant. And that elephant then turns into an Orville when it can fly. So when they first fly, we call them Orvilles. After Orville Wright. So they don’t fly very well.”
Metzner: How old old is this little elephant here?
Hays: Well he’s probably 25 days, he’s almost ready to fly.
Metzner: So he’s almost an Orville?
Hays: Right. Almost. Really, some of them get into the air by accident. They exercise their wings from the time they’re tiny little chicks and one day, after the wing feathers have grown, they’re exercising their wings and if there’s a wind at all they go up. And it surprises them too! Then they make a kind of awkward circle and come back.
Before long, the Orvilles will be taking short practice flights with their parents. The chicks learn fast: by Fall, they’ll have mastered the art of flying and be ready for the winter migration to South America – a journey of up to seven thousand miles.
For transcripts of this and other programs in our series, please visit our web site at www.pulseplanet.com. We’ve been listening to a program from our archives. If you want to hear more, check out our podcast. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.