Little Terns

Subject: Little Terns
From: Laurence and Leanne Knight <>
Date: Mon, 04 Dec 2000 19:21:07 +1000
For those of you who don't get to read the Sydney Morning Herald ...
Helping little terns survive battle of the beaches

Date: 04/12/2000

By James Woodford, Environment Writer

A little tern that leaves the nest is one of the luckiest animals on

Survival for the endangered birds, which migrate every spring from the
furthest reaches of the Northern Hemisphere to Australian beaches, has
virtually nothing to do with planning and everything to do with chance.

This year the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is fencing off
huge areas of sand on the coast to help the birds overcome their biggest
problem: appalling taste in safe real estate. Volunteer wardens are also
being appointed to guard the eggs, and beach fox baiting is underway to
reduce the number of feral predators.

Little terns lay their eggs in the sand, without any protection,
preferably in the open and unfathomably close to the reach of high
tides. At the very best they may deposit their eggs in the lee of a
twig-sized piece of driftwood or on top of a little pile of shell grit.

During the big summer tides, colonies of eggs are frequently swept away
by the sea.
Fencing is being placed around colonies at locations including Tuross
Head and Tathra on the south coast, and a number of north coast sites.
The main aim is to prevent people walking through the nesting sites. The
eggs, which resemble a pumice stone, are so well camouflaged they are
almost impossible for a human to see.

At Tathra, the parks and wildlife service little tern recovery
co-ordinator, Mr Mark Westwood, will also put in place 500 metres of
electric fences to stop ferals getting to the eggs. Mr Westwood, who is
responsible for about 400 of the birds, said most people who walked
through the colonies did not know they were traversing the habitat of an
endangered species. "They breed at the worst time of the year. Summer is
when you get the big storms and the tourists," he said.

If they survive attacks by rogue seagulls, crows, kestrels, sea eagles,
foxes or dogs, they then risk having their eggs picked up by children or
run over by four-wheel drives. Fishermen or sunbakers who unwittingly
spend too long near a nest can drive the parent birds away, leaving eggs
to overheat or chill.

A volunteer warden guarding the birds' colonies, Mr John Liney, said:
"They are their own worst enemy." He has seen the birds make their nests
in four-wheel-drive tracks on the sand.

It takes three weeks for a little tern egg to hatch. Two days later the
chick - known as a runner - is able to flee trouble. In another three
weeks it is able to fly.

If eggs are destroyed, the parent birds re-lay more until summer is
over. But if chicks are not flying by the end of the breeding season
when little terns return to the Arctic, the young are left to die.

"It's scary isn't it?" Mr Westwood said. "What chance would you give
them of successfully breeding, but somehow every year some of them do

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