The Parasitic Jaeger, An Interactive Bird
by Bryce W. Robinson
One of my favorite parts of working on the tundra was experiencing the breeding behaviors of the Parasitic Jaegers, first hand. In early June, when I first arrived on the tundra, I was impressed by the number of all three of North Americas Jaeger species. Many times, I watched dramatic pursuits of shorebirds, where two jaegers would cooperatively chase and capture their prey. As winged predators such as raptors seem to fascinate me above all else, these hunting forays were captivating. I had heard, but really had no idea the jaeger was such a fierce bird.
When the snow finally melted completely, the Pomarine Jaegers left the area. The large numbers of Long-tailed Jaegers seemed to decrease drastically as well. For some reason, the Parasitic Jaegers stayed, and formed territories. Luckily, one study plot of which I frequented, had a nesting pair of Parasitic Jaegers. I interacted with these birds for the entire season, and I’d like to share some of my encounters.
For the first few weeks, every time I walked through the jaeger’s territory, the birds would simply circle, vocalizing occasionally. This mild and cooperative behavior would soon change. In the meantime, it was enjoyable to photograph the birds, and contemplate their different plumages. The bird of which I believe is the male, sexed by behavior, is a solid dark morph. The female, is a very light and unmarked bird, quite unlike her mate.
When the birds actually initiated their nest, they became highly interactive creatures. The closer I came to the nest location, the more aggressive the jaegers became. Vocalizing constantly, the birds dove at my head. It was amusing to watch the birds heading straight for my face, and drop their cute little webbed feet. If it were a raptor with serious talons, the game would have been different, but webbed feet were ultimately non-threatening, and only made me giggle.
Above is a photo of me, giggling. I’m glad my girlfriend Caitlin was there with the camera to capture my elation. I think the photo shows how much this bird nerd enjoys bothering nesting Jaegers, and how much jaegers dislike bird nerds bothering their nest. In this instance, I was trying to record the experience of having birds swipe at your head. I took videos on multiple occasions, almost every time we walked through the territory, but only once was I smart enough to turn my phone and get a video formatted correctly. Below you can watch the jaegers attack me on a foggy day, and experience one of the many reasons I loved working on the arctic tundra.
Interesting to watch. We saw Parasitic Jaegers in Iceland and Svalbard where they seemed to be the most common of the same 3 you had in Alaska, but never had them attack like that, unlike Arctic Terns which even attacked my 300mm lens. The light morph Jaegers are very attractive I think. I recently saw two off the coast near Melbourne, Australia so they travel too.
I think the light morphs are very attractive as well, Sonja. These birds are travelers. They all breed in the far north, and winter on the south oceans. Quite an impressive journey. I’d love to be in Melbourne looking at a Jaeger. What an experience!
I would love to be experiencing the amazing things you are doing & seeing Bryce! Excellent post. I love the picure of you and the Jaeger so close to you!
Thanks Mia. Too bad the road has ended for me. I’m in Boise now, but maybe I’ll be able to find some good birds around here!