The Guardian/1920/05/28/Country Diary
A Country Diary.
North Wales, May 27.
Burnet rose, one of the choicest flowers of the dunes, creeps amongst the marram, and on the close salt-sprayed turf the blood geranium is fully open. All day and most of the short night the terns call with rasping voices, the conversation of courtship. Pairing centres in a love gift—not an engagement ring, but a fish. One bird, presumably the male, captures a shining silvery sand-eel, and with this dangling from his red bill flies in search of a suitable mate. A female, settled on some wave-washed rock or on the sandy shore, greets him open-mouthed with a long call of welcome, but she does not get his gift too easily. He swings it temptingly before her, then flies off, and after a few wide circles alights again. Still she has not given the sign of acceptance, and away he goes once more. What that sign is he knows, and, it appears, will not deliver the present until she has vowed her vows. Even when at last she seizes the slippery tail he makes a show of resistance, only yielding after a short tug-of-war.
It is a strange performance, hard to interpret; man cannot fathom the psychology of the tern. There are other passages in which both birds strike attitudes, raising their bills skyward and depressing half-open wings, but the fish gift is the act of greatest importance. This is hardly surprising, since the tern's life depends on its ability to capture suitable fish.