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Helping hands continue for roseate terns on two Yarmouth County islands

A roseate tern prepares to swallow supper.
A roseate tern prepares to swallow supper.

YARMOUTH COUNTY - Once hunted in the 19th century for their tail streamers to decorate hats, the threatened roseate tern has been receiving help locally over the past three decades.

The first order of business upon arriving is to clean up the debris that winter storms have left behind.

The only known breeding colony of roseate terns in Nova Scotia is located on the provincially-owned Brothers Islands, about a kilometre west of Lower West Pubnico in Yarmouth County. The islands were designated a wildlife management area in April 2007.

Volunteers and biologists work at restoring order to the nesting structures.

Ted D’Eon has been monitoring the colony there since 1982. He works in cooperation with Canadian Wildlife Service and the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources.

Ted D'Eon checking the roseate tern shelters on North Brothers Island last July.

In 1995, he placed 10 manmade roseate tern shelters on North Brothers Island.

Ready for chick raising.

“Four were used and the remainder of the 33 roseate tern nests that year were under washed-up boards, pieces of plywood and even an old washed up dory bottom,” said D’Eon.

A roseate tern in flight.

Now, the vast majority of roseate tern nests are in manmade shelters. Each year, a dedicated group of volunteers that includes some Canadian Wildlife Service biologists (Julie McKnight is the person in charge of Roseate Tern Recovery in Canada), staff from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, a biology professor (Shawn Craik) from Université Sainte-Anne and university biology students.

Visits begin in April to get the island ready for the terns’ arrival in late April or early May. D’Eon remains quite busy after that until late July.

The roseate tern population started increasing shortly after the provision of manmade shelters began, although 2002 appears to have been a peak year.

“The terns are mostly gone by then but a few remain until the first week of August,” he said.

Volunteers clean up the debris that winter storms left behind, pull up crowding vegetation, rake the nesting area and deposit beach gravel on top of landscape fabric before lining out a total of 125 nesting structures.

Two of the biggest threats to Canadian roseate tern populations are herring gulls and great black-backed gulls. In addition to being more abundant, these birds prey on eggs, chicks and adults.

Nests found containing the eggs of these scavengers are destroyed (permit provided).

As they did last year, the team will be placing GPS trackers this summer on some adult roseate terns for a better determination of their foraging patterns.

Visit Ted D’Eon’s roseate tern report  

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