Terns return to Buzzards Bay Island

Terns return to Buzzards Bay Island

We know that the gold standards of conservation are habitat protection and reintroduction of wildlife within their historical range.

That’s why we have a huge cheer for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MDFW), which successfully completed habitat restoration efforts on the tiny Buzzards Bay Island, one of only three major nesting sites in the U.S. for the federally endangered roseate tern.

The island now supports about 3,500 pairs of nesting terns, according to the Associated Press. 

Prior to restoration, the deteriorating seawall and erosion on Bird Island had cut the nesting area for terns in half, forcing many of the birds to find new homes during the nesting season from April through September. The terns that remained on Bird Island were increasingly crowded into the ever-shrinking area.

Terns are small, fish-eating seabirds that nest on the ground. Another species nesting on Bird Island is the state-listed special concern common tern, according to MDFW. Both species are migratory, arriving in Massachusetts in April to nest and leaving in September for their wintering grounds on the north and east coasts of South America. As the second largest nesting colony—supporting about 25% of the entire North American population—Bird Island is a critical site to protect and restore.

Over the winters of 2015–2016 and 2016–2017, project partners rebuilt the seawall higher and wider to combat storms and sea level rise. During the spring of 2017 and 2018, the interior of the island was nourished with sand and gravel to raise the elevation and improve the nesting surface. Native coastal perennials such as seaside goldenrod and American beachgrass were planted across the island to provide cover for nests and chicks.

The terns have taken readily to the improvements and, with double the area now available, there is space for the population to grow. Additionally, the new seawall, built to withstand at least 50 years of sea-level rise, will help to slow erosion and secure the site for the terns well into the future.