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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Journals Lewis and Clark as Naturalists

Least Tern

Capt. Lewis, August 5, 1804--I have frequently observed an aquatic bird in the cours of asscending this river but have never been able to procure one before today, this day I was so fortunate as to kill two of them, they are here more plenty than on the river below. The lay their eggs on sand bars without shelter or nest, and produce their young from the 15th to the last of June, the young ones of which we caught several are covered with down of a yellowish white colour and on the back some small specks of dark brown. They bear a great resemblance to the young quale of ten days oald, and apear like them to be able to runabout and peck their food as soon as they are hatched. This bird, lives on small fish, worms and bugs which it takes on the virge of water it is seldom seen to light on trees an qu[i]te as seldom do they lite in the water and swim tho' the foot would indicate that they did it's being webbed I believe them to be a native of this country and pr[ob]ably a constant resident. The weight of the male bird is one ounce and a half, it[s] [l]ength from b[e]ak to toe 7 1/2 inches. From tip to tip of wing across the back one foot seven inches and a half [the beak] is one 1/8 inch long, large where it joins the head flated on the sides and tapering to a sharp point, a little declining and curvated, a fine yellow, with a shade of black on the extremity of upper beak; the eye is prominent, black and on a angular scale of 1/2 Inc; occupyse 3.3. in width. The upper part of the head is black from the beak as low as the middle of the eye and a little below the joining of the neck except however some white which joins the upper part of the beak which forks and passing over the sides of the forehead terminate above each eye. The under part of the bird, that is the thr[o]at and cheeks as high as the eye, the neck brest belly and under part of the wings and tail are of a fine white, the upper part of the neck, back, and wings are of a fine, quaker coulour, or bright dove colour with reather more of a bluish tint - except however the three first or larger feathers in the wing which on upper side are of a deep black. The wing has four joints

No. joint

Length of Joint

No. of feathers

Length of do.


1 1/2

a Clump of feathers not strong but loosly connected with the flesh of the wing

1 1/4






1 1/2


from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2




5 1/3

the tail has eleven feathers the outer of which are an inch longer than those in the center gradually tapering inwards which gives the tale a forked appearance like that of the swally the largest or outer feathe[r] is 2 3/4 that of the shortest 1 3/4. the leg and thye are three inches long the leg occupying one half this length the thye is covered with feathers except about 1/4 of an inch above the knee the leg is of a bright yellow and nails, long sharp and black the foot is webbed and has three toes forward; the heel or back toe is fixed to the leg above the palm of the foot, and is unconnected by a web to the other toes, it has no nail. the wings when foalded lap like that of the swallow and extend at least an inch and a half beyond the tale. this bird is very noysey when flying which it dose extreemly swift the motion of the wing is much like that of the Kildee it has two notes one like the squaking of a small pig only on reather a higher kee, and the other kit'-tee'-kit'-tee'- as near as the letters can express the sound. the beak of the female is glack and the black and quaker colour of the male in her is yellow[i]s[h] brown mixed with dove colour

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