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Collaboration ensures a future for Presqu’ile’s Terns

Over 50 years ago, Presqu’ile’s beaches rang to the raucous call of breeding Common Terns: over 10,000 of them. Regionally, tern populations plummeted in the 1970’s.  Chief among them was Presqu’ile’s colony, dropping to below 200 breeding birds, where it remained for 40 years. Then, further downturns put this colony at risk of permanent abandonment and the loss of one of nature’s unique voices.

Fast forward to 2020 and a strong collaboration between institutions and individuals has secured the start of a recovery for the Common Tern at Presqu’ile. Although, not common yet by any means, the numbers of these elegant birds breeding at the park have doubled in the last 6 years. How? Through dedication, commitment, collaboration, and, yes, grit.

Once we began studying Presqu’ile’s terns, it was clear that restoring the colony required protection for nests against regular predation. Supported by the Friends, we worked tirelessly with the park on the development of predator exclusion cells (fenced enclosures that protect breeding terns from nest predators).

With more protected nesting areas in the pipeline than in any previous year, 2020 held much promise. Then, the pandemic hit, and it was uncertain if any of our planned activities could go forward. April was a nervous time. It was unclear whether we would be able to cross into Canada to setup tern management or even if park staff would be able to visit the islands. From a distance, we developed plans and alternative plans, working closely with Presqu’ile and Ontario Parks regional office every step of the way and keeping our fingers crossed.

Finally, just as terns were arriving, park staff were given the okay to return to work. We all communicated daily as they set up predator exclusion cells on High Bluff Island and monitored the tern egg-laying. It was a relief when the first eggs were laid, and chattering calls rang out over the waves.

In June and July, with travel approved from Penn State and after much work to adhere to international regulations, we managed to get to the islands for a few weeks to help keep the management going and continue the many decades of research that support and guide these management activities.

Nest predators were once again active at Presqu’ile this summer. However, small chicks within the exclusion cells were protected, grew rapidly and within 30 days they had flown this “coop”. Through all this, volunteers and park staff worked tirelessly through heatwaves, storms, and lots of head-pecking to make sure all these chicks were accounted for and cells were maintained.

More than 60 Common Tern chicks fledged from Presqu’ile to wing their way to South America as winter closed in. Sixty chicks that would not have survived if it had not been for a group that recognized the importance of this colony and the consequence of failure for its future at Presqu’ile. We anticipate continued growth of the colony as these birds eventually return to Presqu’ile to lay their own eggs.

We specifically thank Don Tyerman, Mike Barker, Allyson Parker, Robyn Tyerman, Rachel Windsor, and Laura McClintock, as well as Presqu’ile Provincial Park, Friends of Presqu’ile, Ontario Parks and Penn State University for their continued commitment to terns and tern conservation.