Tern Restoration Project

Photo: Phylis Cooper/FWS

Common tern (c) Phylis Cooper/FWS

Project Goal: The goal of the Isles of Shoals Seabird Restoration Project is to manage and protect the breeding population of terns at the Isles of Shoals as well as their habitat. This project hopes to accomplish the protection and restoration of these birds through a continued human presence on the islands to deter predators and the development and implementation of a comprehensive habitat management regime.

Timeline: Historically the Isles of Shoals supported the most significant tern colony documented in the Gulf of Maine, which peaked at 1500-2000 pairs of common terns (Sterna hirundo), 50-60 pairs of roseate terns (Sterna dougalii) and 25-30 pairs of arctic terns (Sterna paradisaea) on Lunging (Londoner's) Island between 1928 and 1938. The colony's decline and abandonment, by 1955, was related to a decrease in human habitation of the islands and subsequent increases in herring gulls (Larus argentatus) and great black-backed gulls (Larus marinus) which prey on tern eggs and young. The Isles of Shoals Seabird Restoration Project was initiated in 1997. From 1998 through 2004 the tern colony experienced significant growth and has remained relatively stable since. The tern colony at the Isles of Shoals is once again one of the most significant tern colonies in the Gulf of Maine.

Location: Seavey and White Islands, Isles of Shoals

Description: The first year of this project biologists used non-lethal means of gull control along with tern decoys and tern colony sounds to attract breeding terns back to the Isles of Shoals. Human presence on Seavey Island was an essential first step in deterring the gulls. Biologists used pyrotechnics to scare gulls away and walked the island at sunrise and sunset to disrupt nesting activity by gulls. Biologists also set up dozens of wooden tern decoys around Seavey Island and continuously played tern colony sounds from loud speakers placed around the island in hopes that these familiar sights and sounds would attract breeding terns passing by. In 1998 a small colony of six pairs of common terns raised and fledged six young at this site. This was the first documented breeding by terns at the Isles of Shoals since the 1950's.

Each year, biologists live and work on White and Seavey Islands throughout the entire breeding season from April through August. Living conditions are rustic to say the least, with no running water or electricity. But the staff find innovative ways to make life at sea more "normal" from using solar panels to power laptop computers and cell phones to propane tanks to cook hot meals and run a small refrigerator.

Each year biologists conduct a census to count the number of terns nesting on the island, the number of eggs each pair lays, how many of the eggs hatch, and how many of the young chicks survive to fledge (are able to fly). Biologists also monitor feeding activity to determine how many and what kinds of fish the terns are surviving on.

The dress code for biologists working in the tern colony primarily consists of a rain jacket to protect them from tern poop falling from the sky, and a hat covered with old socks and duck tape. The sock- layered hat provides protection for both human and bird when defensive terns dive from the air and strike at those who dare enter the breeding colony.

Efforts to deter gulls and allow terns to nest and raise their young have proven successful. Continued human presence is necessary each year to maintain the tern colony.

Partners: In 1997, the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Nongame Program, the Office of State Planning Coastal Program, the Department of Resources and Economic Development - Parks Division, US Department of Agriculture - Animal Damage Control, Shoals Marine Laboratory, Isles of Shoals Steamship Company, Gulf of Maine Tern Working Group and the US Fish and Wildlife Service worked cooperatively to successfully complete the first year of this project.

In 2006 the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program contracted with the Shoals Marine Lab who has since been responsible for the direct management and implementation of the Isles of Shoals Seabird Restoration and management effort.

Funding: Private donations have provided the foundation for the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program since its inception in 1988. Contributions support the on-the-ground work and also enable the Nongame Program to qualify for additional funding through grants from both the State of New Hampshire and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Donations made to the Nongame Program are matched dollar-for-dollar by the State of New Hampshire up to $50,000 annually. Please help keep this project going by donating to the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. (Click here to donate).

The Nongame Program also receives a portion of proceeds from the sale of the NH Conservation License plate (moose plate) each year. To learn more please visit the NH Moose Plate Program online at www.mooseplate.com.

Outcomes: Table 1. Number of tern pairs nesting at White and Seavey Islands

  1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
common tern 45 141 446 809 1687 2414 2582 2478 2464 2539 2227
roseate tern - - - 1 26 65 112 67 38 57 40
arctic tern - - - - 1 6 7 9 8 6 8

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