The simple conservation strategy to save endangered roseate terns

A simple retention strategy deployed by conservationists and scientists from BirdWatch Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin is contributing greatly to the extraordinary success of endangered roseate terns on Rockabill Island, off Dublin.

Ireland is home to the majority of Europe’s roseate terns, with Rockabill staggeringly hosting 85% of Europe’s population on this small island, which is the size of a football pitch. The number of breeding pairs is now ten times what it was when the project started in 1989, and the chicks that hatched and fledged on Rockabill have gone on to boost other important colonies in Wexford and England.

And every year for the past 33 years, BirdWatch Ireland conservation rangers have placed hundreds of wooden nesting boxes on Rockabill Island, effectively providing terns with secure little homes to nest in.

Like most seabirds, Roseate Terns nest on the ground, but while most species of Terns prefer open areas to lay their eggs, Roseate Terns nest in sheltered places, usually under vegetation or next to rocky overhangs or in crevices. They like their nests to be hidden from above and away to protect them from predators and the weather.

The scientists hoped the nesting boxes would provide additional shelter, but by analyzing 15 years of data comparing the impact of traditional open nests with nesting in the nesting boxes, they found that their strategy had an even greater positive effect.

Their analyzes show that the nesting boxes helped Roseate Terns be much more successful in rearing their young: more eggs hatched and more chicks survived to become juveniles when they were born in the nesting boxes. .

This suggests that the nesting boxes help protect the terns from harsh weather, predators and even feuds with neighbors, while making the most of the limited space on this small island by allowing for a much higher nest density.

Dr. Darren O’Connell is co-author of the research paper, published today in the journal Ecological solutions and proofs. O’Connell, who performed the data analyzes during his PhD at Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, is now a research fellow at University College Dublin. He said:

“These kinds of follow-up analyzes are really important because they look at the success of conservation actions and let scientists know if they are putting effort into the right areas. It’s fantastic to have discovered that over three decades of hard manual labor by the keepers of BirdWatch Ireland – during which they have installed hundreds of birdhouses on the island each year – has been more than worth it. What appears to be a simple conservation strategy is proving very effective in having a truly positive impact on Roseate Tern farming.

Brian Burke, science officer at BirdWatch Ireland and another co-author of the journal article, was Rockabill’s caretaker for three years. He added:

“Rockabill is an incredible place and we are extremely fortunate to have such an internationally important colony of seabirds on the doorstep of our capital. The job of a tern keeper is challenging but rewarding as nothing beats the sight of fledgling terns all over the island in late summer. When you see them thrive, you know all that hard work has been worth it. It’s great to now have the science to back up what we’ve done, and hopefully other conservation projects can learn from it.

The birdhouses deployed by the keepers are cheap and easy to make, and on another positive note, many have been made and colorfully decorated by students from the local Balbriggan Community College, helping to open young people’s eyes to the importance to conserve our precious biodiversity.

Conservation of roseate terns on Rockabill is funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and provided by BirdWatch Ireland.

– This press release was originally published on the Trinity College Dublin website

Comments are closed.