Local birders Jeff Lemons and Chris Talkington located a pomarine jaeger on Lake Norman last weekend while doing some birding by boat. It is always exciting for me when a new bird species is added to the Mecklenburg County Bird List. The addition of the pomarine gives Mecklenburg County the jaeger trifecta, as it joins its cousins, the parasitic and long-tailed jaegers, on our list.
There are three species of jaegers that occur in North America, and all three are rare on any inland water. Birders wishing to see jaegers usually must go well offshore to hope to get a look. These are birds of the open ocean, built for speed and power. Notice the bulkiness of this bird’s body, the slightly hooked bill, and especially the sharply pointed wings. Falcons, among the fastest flying of birds, have the same wing shape.
Jaegers put these physiological attributes to good use. They are true bullies of the sea, procuring most of their food by harassing terns and gulls into dropping any food they might be carrying, or even causing them to regurgitate a recent meal. I have watched jaegers come in from long distances when they see a large feeding flock of seabirds. They come in low over the water at great speed, pick out victim and give chase until the food is given up. It really is a breathtaking thing to witness.
Interestingly, the location where this bird was seen on the lake is the exact location where many a rarity has been found over the years. Birds are drawn to the confluence of several currents west of I-77. There must be some mixing and upwelling of water that occurs there; perhaps deep currents encounter some underwater topography that causes food to come to the surface. Whatever the reason, I have seen brown pelican, Sabine’s gull, lesser black-backed gull and parasitic jaeger there. Other inland super rarities like Thayer’s gull, Franklin’s gull and long-tailed jaeger have been seen there too. After this latest find, I plan to check the spot frequently over the next few weeks.
Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.
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