Maryland’s Department of Natural Res has partnered with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program to build a 48-by-48 foot raft covered in broken clamshells to mimic the conditions of the islands where common terns prefer to nest. The beaches the birds use are on small islands in coastal estuaries, which have disappeared due to erosion and sea level rise. The platform works as a super piece of nesting habitat for these common terns. Last year at this time, there were zero nests on the platform. This year, the number of nests shot up in just weeks, from four nests mid-month to 91 nests by May 22.
As seen in the coverage by recent reports, common terns in Maryland have seen a significant decline in their population since the mid-1980s. At that time, there were approximately 2,500 nesting pairs in the state. However, due to the loss of their preferred nesting spots on small islands in coastal estuaries, their numbers have plummeted.
Dave Brinker, an ecologist with the Department of Natural Res, explained that erosion and sea level rise have caused most of these small islands to disappear. To help the common terns, the Maryland Department of Natural Res partnered with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program to build a 48-by-48 foot raft covered in broken clamshells. This raft mimics the conditions of the islands that the birds prefer and has proven to be a successful nesting habitat for the common terns.
Brinker noted that there are hopeful signs for the common tern population. Last year, there were no nests on the platform, but this year, the number of nests increased from four mid-month to 91 nests by May 22. Each nesting pair of terns can produce a clutch of two to three eggs, which take about 23 to 24 days to hatch. If all goes well, there could be hundreds of little terns hatching by mid-June.
One of the benefits of creating artificial islands for the birds is that natural predators have not caught on to the presence of the nests. Great horned owls, raccoons, and foxes typically raid the birds’ nests, but these predators have not been able to access the nests on the platforms. Brinker explained that raccoons can swim over to an island if it’s not too remote, and they treat the nests on the islands like a buffet.
In addition to common terns, the platforms may also help other birds whose numbers have dropped, such as black skimmers and royal terns. Brinker emphasized that maintaining the diversity of the coastal bay is essential for the balance of the ecosystem. If left without intervention, the decline in these bird populations could result in their disappearance from the area.
By creating artificial islands for these beach-loving birds, Maryland’s Department of Natural Res and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program have taken a significant step towards preserving the common tern population. These efforts not only benefit the birds but also help maintain the balance of the ecosystem. As Brinker noted, without intervention, these bird species might disappear from the area, making it impossible for boaters and bird enthusiasts to enjoy their beauty.