Sometimes during the summer months guests have been lucky enough to witness from the balcony at Pebbles the Apartment, a small group of Sandwich Terns feeding just off Budleigh beach. People are often alerted to their presence by the loud harsh but rhythmic call, a sort of "kirr-ick, kirr-ick!".
The Sandwich Tern is a large, handsome, active and noisy bird with short dark legs and a long sharp bill. In fact they are the largest of our breeding terns. When on the ground they appear to be very arrogant and appear to swagger. In flight they are very striking and look very white, their long angular wings are pale silvery grey and they have an inky black cap on their head with a spiky crest. The bill is jet black with a yellow tip.
They catch fish such as sandeels, sprats and whiting by plunging into the sea with a loud splash as it enters the water from height.
They are long-distance migrants spending the winter in West Africa, mainly on the coast of Senegal and Ghana. They return to our coasts in March/April. Their nest is a shallow depression in the shingle or sand usually in crowded and extremely noisy colonies on beaches and sand dunes. They lay one or two eggs which hatch into chicks with speckled downy plumage to match the shingle and hopefully camouflage them from predators.
Most of the larger colonies survive in this country because they are on nature reserves such as the one on Brownsea Island near Poole. There are approximately 12,000 breeding pairs in Great Britain in colonies scattered around the coast, good examples being Dungeness in Kent, the North Norfolk coast and Minsmere in Suffolk.
The Sandwich Tern is one of the few birds to be named after a place in Britain. In 1784 a bird was shot by William Boys, a Kentish surgeon and ornithologist. It was identified as a new species by his colleague Dr John Latham and named after the seaside town of Sandwich. There are two other birds the Dartford Warbler and Kentish Plover with names connected to the county of Kent.