Dan Hayward,  (603) 553-3350
Steve Fuller, (603) 271-3018
Jane Vachon,  (603) 271-3211
August 22, 2008

Threatened and Endangered Terns Complete Successful Breeding Season

CLICK to skip to 5-year chart of nesting pairs

CONCORD, N.H. -- The Isles of Shoals was home to more than 2,200 pairs of breeding terns this summer, including state-endangered common terns; state-threatened Arctic terns; and Roseate terns, which are listed as endangered both in New Hampshire and throughout the U.S.

The tern population at the Isles of Shoals continued to do well this year, according to Dan Hayward, a biologist who has been involved with the project for 11 years. "The weather was pretty decent early in the season, which helped."

This year, biologists arrived on Seavey Island on May 3 and stayed through the end of August. In all, 2,227 pairs of common terns, 40 pairs of Roseate terns and 8 pairs of Arctic terns nested. From these, 2,614 common tern chicks fledged, along with 46 Roseate tern chicks and 4 Arctic tern chicks.

The number of pairs of common terns nesting on Seavey Island this year was down about 5.5%, according to Hayward.  He explained that this could be the result of a number of factors, including the presence of more grass and vegetation, which leaves less of the rocky habitat needed for the birds to nest on the island.  Biologists are not too concerned with this slight decrease, as fluctuations in populations from year to year are normal, and the tern population has reached target levels and remained stable for several years.

N.H. Fish and Game will continue to stabilize habitat by burning and cutting vegetation in 2009.  The tern population increased after invading vegetation was removed through a controlled burn on Seavey Island in September of 2006.  During the following years, terns were observed nesting in areas cleared through the burning process.

Biologists across the Northeast are concerned about the regional population of Roseate terns, however. "Early numbers that have come in show that the population is down about 20%," Hayward said. "The overall population is near what it was in 1987, when the species was listed as endangered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."  Biologists are not sure what happened to the Roseate terns over the winter; they just did not come back to breed this year.

Following is a chart comparing tern reproductive success on the Isles of Shoals over the past five years:

(nesting pairs)







Common Terns







Roseate terns







Arctic terns







The Tern Restoration Project is a joint effort between the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, the Shoals Marine Lab (operated by the University of New Hampshire and Cornell University) and the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development.

Biologists from the Shoals Marine Lab who worked on the project and lived on Seavey Island this year included biologists Dan Hayward, an eleven-year veteran of the project; Melissa Hayward, a six-year veteran of the project; and Susie Burbidge, who returned for her third year.

The staff had lots of help and lots of visitors this season. Two interns from the Shoals Marine Lab each spent one week on the island, and another stayed for eight weeks. In addition, over 200 students from the Shoals Marine Lab visited the tern project this year.

To learn more about the Tern Restoration Project, visit the Shoals Marine Lab website at

For more on Fish and Game's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, visit

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