Sea Save BLOG

Holy Spirit Tern – The Cocos Island Greeters

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Cocos Island has a soul.  The spirituality of this World Heritage site pours from her waterfalls, sings in her forest and resounds in the vistas found surrounding the pristine island.

The symbolic holy spirit tern is just one of many magic animals you will find on the island.  This delicate white bird will fly to you and unafraid, flutter inches above your head.  Spectacular.  Please share the following experience we captured on an iphone on the second day of our 2011 stay on Cocos Island.
“The White Tern (Gygis alba) is a small seabird found across the tropical oceans of the world. It is sometimes known as the Fairy Tern and a Holy Spirit Tern for its practice of fluttering above the heads of hikers. Other names for the species include Angel Tern and White Noddy.  The White Tern has 3-4 subspecies: the nominate race G. a. alba, G. a. leucopes, the Pacific White Tern (G. a. candida).  The White Tern is a small, all white tern with a long black bill, related to the noddies. It ranges widely across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and also nests in some Atlantic islands. It nests on coral islands, usually on trees with thin branches but also on rocky ledges and on man-made structures. The White Tern feeds on small fish which it catches by plunge-diving.


This small tern is famous for laying its egg on bare thin branches in a small fork or depression without a nest.  It is thought that the reason for the absence of nests is the reduction in nest parasites which in some colonial seabirds can cause the abandonment of an entire colony. In spite of these benefits, there are costs associated with tree nesting, as the eggs and chicks are vulnerable to becoming dislodged by heavy winds. For this reason, the White Tern is also quick to relay should they lose the egg. The newly hatched chicks have well-developed feet to hang on to their precarious nesting site with. It is a long-lived bird, having been recorded living for 17 years.”
Courtesy Wikipedia