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common tern, by Dan Hayward
Common tern at the Isles of Shoals; Dan Hayward photo

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Dan Hayward, (603) 553-3350
John Kanter, (603) 271-3017
Jane Vachon, (603) 271-3211
October 19, 2009  

Skip to table of tern nesting data     

Terns Fare Well at the Isles of Shoals in 2009, Despite Rain, Owl Predation

CONCORD, N.H. – A total of 2,377 pairs of state-threatened common terns, 40 pairs of state and federally endangered Roseate terns and 7 pairs of Arctic terns nested at the Isles of Shoals this year, according to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. The 2009 tern breeding season started out well, with mild weather and plenty of fish available during May, which is when the terns initiate nesting at the Isles of Shoals.  June was mostly cloudy and wet, with nearly two inches of rain falling during a critical three-day period from June 26 through June 29 when the majority of tern chicks hatched. Despite the bad weather, the chicks seemed to do well this year.

The following table compares the number of terns nesting each year since 1998:

Table 1.  Total number of tern pairs nesting at White and Seavey Islands 1998-2009

Species

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

Common Tern

45

141

446

809

1,687

2,414

2,582

2,478

2,464

2,539

2,227

2,377

Roseate Tern

-

-

-

1

26

65

112

67

38

57

40

40

Arctic Tern

-

-

-

-

1

6

7

9

8

6

8

7

The most significant impact to the tern colony this year was the presence of a snowy owl on the coastal islands. Snowy owls regularly winter on the Isles of Shoals, but this was the first time one had been seen during the tern breeding season since the tern monitoring project began. The owl was observed preying on the terns for several days, causing the entire colony to abandon their nests at night. “We were afraid that if it continued into the season, we would lose the majority of the chicks,” said Dan Hayward, a Shoals Marine Laboratory biologist who coordinates the Tern Project.

Biologists were able to live-trap the owl, which was transported to the mainland and taken to a wildlife rehabilitator. It was released two weeks later in northern New Hampshire and was later reported by birders in the area. Once the owl was removed, biologists set up a sound system to try and attract the terns back to the island and get them to settle and incubate their nests overnight. Luckily, it worked, and life at the tern colony returned to normal, resulting in a successful breeding season. The hatching period was delayed by about one week and was more synchronized than usual (the majority of chicks typically hatch over a 7-day period, but this year all hatching occurred in just 3 days).

The goals of the Tern Restoration Project are to protect, manage and enhance the breeding populations of common (state threatened), roseate (state and federally endangered), and Arctic terns nesting at the Isles of Shoals. Since restoration efforts began in 1997, the number of common terns nesting on the islands has increased from six pairs to over 2,200 pairs. In addition, the one pair of roseate terns that first nested in 2001 has since grown into a small population that has returned each year since.

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.

To learn more about the Tern Restoration Project, visit the Shoals Marine Lab website at www.sml.cornell.edu/sml_ternproject.html.

For more on Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, visit www.wildnh.com/Wildlife/nongame_and_endangered_wildlife.htm.

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