A rare denizen of NYS Parks in Long Island is the least tern. This state-threatened species is challenged by both loss of nesting habitat, as well as predation by rats, dogs, cats, and other birds.
The least tern is so named because it is the smallest member of the gull and tern family, growing to a maximum of only nine inches in body length. These beautiful birds make their homes on the Atlantic coast. In the winter, least terns migrate to the southern United States and the Mexican coast, but once it becomes warmer, they return to the beaches of Long Island to nest. Even though they are small, least terns are mighty. If an intruder crosses a nest, the tern will dive at the possible predator screeching to frighten the danger away. Least terns also make a habit to roosting with larger terns for protection.
The importance of Long Island shoreline habitat to least terns, as well as a plethora of other migratory bird species, is the main reason why some Long Island beaches are off limits to dogs. Even where pets are allowed, be conscious of how your dog might be affecting wildlife and protect the habitat of this small, but magnificent bird.
featured image is a pair of least terns, by Larry Master. Post by Paris Harper
Audubon New York, the state’s largest bird conservation organization has teamed up with New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to launch the 2014 “Be a Good Egg” campaign: A community engagement initiative to protect threatened and endangered beach-nesting birds. The goal of the Be a Good Egg project is to help people learn more about birds like Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers that nest and rest on the beaches of New York and New Jersey every spring and summer.
Between April and August every year, thousands of birds nest on the bare sand of New York beaches and inlets, including 30% of the Atlantic Coast Piping Plover population and many other migratory shorebirds that rest and refuel on the New York and New Jersey coastlines on journeys as long as 9,000 miles.
These hardy little birds are threatened by predators, extreme weather conditions, and humans. When a person or dog walks through a nesting area, the adults run or fly off in fear. During the nesting season, this exposes the eggs or chicks to fatally high temperatures and drastically increases the risk of predation. The survival and recovery of these species is dependent upon being able to nest and raise their young in an undisturbed environment.
Audubon New York, State Parks, and other partners are reaching out to visitors at New York beaches and asking them to pledge to “be a good egg” and share the beach with our native birds. As part of this project, volunteers are helping us reach out to people at beaches where Audubon is working with the local community to protect hundreds of nesting and migrating birds. To date, nearly 2,000 beach-goers have signed the “Be a Good Egg” pledge. Volunteers are an important part of this campaign and more are needed to help outreach events and shorebird surveys. To take the pledge, and to get more information about Be A Good Egg, including dates of the outreach events, visit www.goodeggnjny.org
The featured image is a nesting Least Tern. Photo by New York Audubon.
The Taconic Outdoor Education Center (TOEC), at Fahnestock State Park, invited the community to celebrate National Get Outdoors Day and National Kids to Parks Day on May 18th this year at the TOEC Outdoor RecFest. The day started with a bird banding demonstration led by Eric Lind of the Audubon Constitution March Sanctuary.
Bird banding is a way to gain valuable knowledge about migratory birds, including data used in studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth. The data can be used in both research and management projects.
At the RecFest, bird banding was also a great tool for education and getting kids introduced to and interested in outdoor science and the variety of songbirds that make Fahnstock State Park their home. It was also a special opportunity for kids to get up close and personal with a migratory bird. Participants learned about mist nets, band sizes, bird measurements, and data recording.
Other events of the day included a bird walk led by naturalist Peter Salmansohn of Putnam Highland’s Audubon and workshops in orienteering and canoeing. The Event was supported by the Putnam Highland Audubon chapter, and Audubon New York’s Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, with the help of TOEC outdoor Educators.
Spring is here and you know what that means! The birds are coming back in force and they are all looking for places to build a sturdy nest. One of the ways Grafton Lakes State Park helps our feathered friends is by providing pre-fab nest boxes. The two targeted audiences are the wood ducks and bluebirds, although other birds take advantage of the boxes as well. Wood ducks and bluebirds have each suffered population declines in the recent past, partially due to human interference. By providing these special nesting boxes, we can help bring the populations back up to snuff!
Wood ducks’ natural nesting cavities usually consist of a hollow nook in a tree, made over the years by a branch rotting away, or an old woodpecker feeding site. It also needs to be near water. Wood ducks are unique in that they are one of the only ducks equipped with strong claws on their feet enabling them to climb branches in order to build nests.
Because dead snags are seen as a danger to humans, the trees that wood ducks like to nest in are often cut down. Grafton Lakes State Park has so many bodies of water it is the perfect place to put up some nest boxes. Earlier this year we patrolled the 15 sites spread out over 5 ponds, cleaned out old nest material and refilled them with new wood shavings. If a duck chooses to use the box, the female will supplement the wood shavings with down feathers, and lay 6-10 eggs. Wood ducks have two broods each year. The chicks will hatch out in about 30 days with a full coat of down and are mobile within 2 days, jumping from the nest and waddling their way to the water. About 40% of the Grafton Lake boxes are occupied by wood duck broods each year, the rest used by owls, squirrels and other critters.
The bluebirds face a different challenge- their populations have been impacted by increasing land development. Bluebirds need nests that are high enough to deter predators and enable them to look out on an open area where plenty of bugs can be found (like the edge of a farm field or large yard). The other challenge to bluebirds is the increase of invasive species competing for the same type of nest. European starlings and house sparrows are both aggressive birds that will kill bluebird parents, chicks and eggs they find in order to claim a nest box for themselves. While starlings are not usually an issue with properly made nest boxes, the house sparrows should never be allowed to occupy a box.
The Assistant Park Naturalists at Grafton held an educational program in the beginning of April about bluebirds. Almost 20 people attended; a lot of great nest boxes were made and brought home to spruce up personal yards. These bluebird boxes will become part of the successful citizen science project that has been helping bluebird population numbers rebound since the 1970s.
Just a few days ago, the bluebird nest boxes at Grafton Lakes got their first check up. After knocking on the box to inform any birds of our presence, we checked for signs of nest building and cleaned out any bugs that had overwintered in the boxes. Bluebirds build their nests from dry grass or pine needles, and we did see both a partially constructed nest and one that was completed. Hopefully soon we will be hearing little bluebird voices in Grafton!
If you’re interested in helping these beautiful birds there are many websites that have nest box instructions and dimensions for building your own box. Just make sure your box has adequate drainage holes, ventilation and weather protection.
Put up a box this spring, grab your binoculars and settle in to see some amazing sights of nature in your own backyard!