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Arctic Tern Injured in the Water


Story narrated by Wildlife Photographer Bibi Chang.

It was a typical day of shooting in Alaska, with plenty of birds and wildlife. The Arctic Tern breeding season was in full swing during the summer. I was photographing birds in the Marsh when unusual splashes in the water suddenly caught my attention. As I looked through the lens of my camera, I realized an Arctic Tern had just been attacked by a Mew Gull.

The Tern was badly injured and desperately flapping its wings, struggling to remain above the water. It seemed as though the Tern was about to drown ...


















Arctic Tern Attacking Arctic Tern?


When I thought the situation couldn't get any worse, another Arctic Tern came into play and appeared to repeatedly "attack" the drowning Tern. Here he was, hovering back and forth, then quickly diving and beating the other bird down. My heart sank even deeper ... "How could it be?" I kept repeating to myself. "How mean can you be to attack one of your own?"




Although I had lost my will to take pictures of this tragedy, my instincts as a photographer made me press the shutter; it was like a reflex. At every click of the camera, I recorded how cruel nature could be. What else could I have done? I felt so helpless ...

I desperately wanted to help, but back here on firm ground, the sad reality was that I was of little to no help.






A Surprising Turn of Events


Later on, still pondering the events of the day, I reviewed the pictures on my computer screen. To my astonishment, I realized that the "attack" my friends and I had witnessed was in fact what appears to be a rescue. What a shock! The Tern we had openly cursed and vilified was actually a hero trying to pull the drowning Tern out of the water, and not pushing it down ...

Upon close inspection, we could clearly see that the Tern was offering its beak for the distressed bird to hang on to. Beak to beak, the latter Tern tried to clinch to its mate who pulled with all its strength. Unfortunately, with its feathers soaked with water, the Tern was just too heavy to be successfully rescued this way.

















In retrospect, I was quite intrigued to see such a compassionate behavior from a bird, and I feel even more blessed to have been able to witness such a touching event in nature. But also, I am surprised at how we could have so profoundly misunderstood this pair of Arctic Terns while the drama occured before our eyes. I am always amazed at how the camera could capture things the naked eye could not catch ...







After many failed attempts, the Tern had to accept that it could not help its companion and had to abandon the rescue.










In this moment of desperation, the distressed bird looked up one last time as its friend slowly flew away ... It must have felt so lonely.





On its Own


The Tern was now left by itself in the water. It flapped its wings in an attempt to break free. The Tern briefly lifted in the air, but the wet feathers provided little support so the bird fell back into the water.















Happy Ending



Finally, it managed to reach a rock nearby, and painfully tried to pulled itself to safety. Exhausted from its ordeal, the Tern fell back into the water several times before succeeding.











Now on firm ground, it can attend to its feathers.








Eventually, the Tern fully recovered from its ordeal and flew away. It was such a relief to see the two birds back together in the sky ...




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