Creating Nesting "Islands" for Iconic Waterbird Species

An innovative approach to recreating nesting beachfront for birds.

Black Skimmer Photo: Lorraine Minns/Audubon Photography Awards

Maryland’s Coastal Bays, located behind Ocean City and Assateague Island on the Atlantic coast, is home for iconic waterbirds, such as the Common Tern, Royal Tern, and Black Skimmer. However, nesting islands that once dotted the bays have been disappearing over the years due to erosion from sea-level rise. This loss of suitable habitat has resulted in an alarming population decrease among these species, with their numbers dropping by more than 90% since the 1980s. These terns and skimmers are in danger of being completely wiped out unless we are able to protect and rebuild these nesting sites.

Audubon Mid-Atlantic’s Director of Bird Conservation Dr. David Curson has stated, “As suitable habitat for these birds dwindles from effects of a changing climate like shoreline erosion and sea-level rise, it’s more important than ever to do what we can to keep them as part of the coastal ecosystem. We need a two-pronged strategy of ongoing sand management to maintain their natural islands to combat erosion, and provide artificial habitat as an interim measure until the species populations are stable again.”

In partnership with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Audubon Mid-Atlantic has created an innovative project to build artificial islands placed on rafts that recreate nesting beachfront for these birds. The anchored platforms included bird decoys, audio recordings of birdcalls, and chick shelters to replicate successful social attraction techniques originating from Audubon’s Seabird Institute. Since the island launched in late spring 2021, 23 tern nests have been spotted on the island along with signs of chicks hatching as of August 2021, making it the largest colony in the Coastal Bays during the 2021 nesting season.

There will be ongoing monitoring of the nesting site with the hopes that this project can be replicated in the future at other sites in the Coastal Bays as well as similar locations throughout Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic region.

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Conservation partnership deploys “Island” for colonial nesting waterbirds.

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Saving Maryland's Iconic Beach Birds
Coasts

Saving Maryland's Iconic Beach Birds

Iconic species of terns and skimmers depend on critical nesting habitat like the islands within the Maryland Coastal Bays near Ocean City and Assateague Island. But many of these island-nesting birds are experiencing a serious decline due to erosion, disturbance, and predation.

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Audubon Maryland-DC and Audubon Pennsylvania have joined forces to become Audubon Mid-Atlantic.