Conservation Partnership Deploys ‘Island’ for Colonial Breeding Waterbirds
Photo by Dave Brinker, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Audubon Mid-Atlantic and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program are teaming up in research and monitoring efforts to preserve three of the colonial breeding waterbirds threatened by the state of Maryland: the common tern, royal tern and black skimmer.
Due to shoreline erosion and sea level rise in coastal bays, populations of some species of colonial nesting birds have declined by 90-95% since the mid-1980s. These species nest usually on islands in small colonies on barren beaches. The lack of suitable nesting areas on these eroding islands has resulted in a loss of sufficient nesting areas for these populations to thrive.
“The terns and skimmers nesting in the coastal bay islands are in trouble and are on the verge of extinction – or wiping out – from Maryland as breeding species,” says the director of bird conservation, the Dr David Curson of Audubon Mid-Atlantic. “As suitable habitat for these birds declines due to the effects of a changing climate such as shoreline erosion and sea level rise, it is more important than ever to do what we can for them. maintain in the coastal ecosystem. We need a two-pronged strategy of continued sand management to maintain their natural islands to control erosion and provide man-made habitat as an interim measure until species populations are stable again. “
This year, the group undertook a pilot project to establish an artificial island to mimic the characteristics of an ideal nesting beach for these birds. This project also uses a social attraction method that attracts seabirds to the platform with social signals, using bird decoys and audio recordings of bird calls. This model and technique has worked in other parts of the United States, Canada, and Europe, including restoring the puffin population in the Gulf of Maine.
Local woodworkers John Collins and Todd Peterson helped design and build platforms loaded with crushed clam shells that birds could nest on and anchored in an undisclosed location in coastal bays. Local community groups built chick shelters and decoys were placed to attract common terns and black skimmers to this ideal new nesting site.
Nesting platforms will be monitored throughout the season. If this project is successful, then consideration will be given to launching more in the coming years to protect and preserve our declining colonial waterbird population. Roman Jesien of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program says, “We hope these nesting platforms will work in the short term as we continue our efforts to restore and conserve our natural islands for the long term.”
Dave Brinker, regional ecologist for the Maryland DNR Wildlife and Heritage Service, has been monitoring populations of colonial breeding waterfowl in Maryland since 1985.
âIn the late 1980s, there were about 3,000 pairs of Common Terns and 300 pairs of Black Skimmers nesting in Maryland,â Brinker said. âToday there are less than 5 pairs of black skimmers and only 500 pairs of Common Terns that nest in Maryland each summer. The Nesting Platform Project is an effort to stop this decline and conserve nesting of common terns and black skimmers in coastal bays in Maryland.
The Maryland DNR provides technical assistance, equipment, and funding through federal Pittman-Robertson funds the state receives from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The match for these federal funds comes from funds from the Maryland Program Open Space used to purchase land for the state’s wildlife management areas and from the Chesapeake Bay and Endangered Species Fund, a voluntary income tax levy from the state. Audubon Mid-Atlantic and National Audubon provide technical support and assistance for the planning, coordination and construction of rafts under contract with MD DNR. The Maryland Coastal Bays program assists with planning, coordination and volunteers.
“The sharp decline in populations of these important bird species deserves our immediate attention,” said Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “We are delighted to help with this interim measure as well as long term measures to give them the best possible chance to bounce back.”