The trans-Atlantic terns of Great Gull Island

5/11/2016 | 0

Roseate Terns at Parguera, Lajas, Puerto Rico, November 2, 1987, by Alcides Morales, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region (Wikimedia Commons).

Roseate Terns at Parguera, Lajas, Puerto Rico, November 2, 1987, by Alcides Morales, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region (Wikimedia Commons).

Along with articles from global Big Year record-holder Noah Strycker and well-known scientist and author Bernd Heinrich, our just-published June 2016 issue contains a report about one of the avian jewels of North America — Great Gull Island.

Read a preview of our June 2016 issue.

Great Gull Island is a tiny bird sanctuary off the eastern tip of Long Island, a 17-acre island located just 100 miles from New York City, and home to the largest tern colony in the Western Hemisphere. Approximately 10,000 pairs of Common Terns and over 1,500 pairs of endangered Roseate Terns — almost 50 percent of North America’s breeding population — nest there every year.

Helen Hays, of New York's American Museum of Natural History, director of the Great Gull Island Project, by Michelle Kinsey Bruns (Wikimedia Commons).

Helen Hays, of New York’s American Museum of Natural History, director of the Great Gull Island Project, by Michelle Kinsey Bruns (Wikimedia Commons).

The island is also the home of a famous long-term research project overseen since 1969 by researcher Helen Hays, of the American Museum of Natural History, in New York. Over the decades, she and her colleagues have made great strides in understanding the breeding ecology of both terns, and her work has extended far beyond Long Island Sound.

In 1995, when Hays obtained funding to search for Roseate Terns along the coast of South America, no one knew where the bird spent the nonbreeding season.

Her team started looking in February in Argentina, and found a large concentration of Common Terns at Punta Rasa, east of Buenos Aires. Continuing farther north, the researchers then discovered Roseate and Common Terns feeding almost seven miles (11 km) off of southern Bahia, Brazil, thus providing the first evidence that Roseates spent the winter along the South American coast.

That same year, a Brazilian colleague banding birds farther north, at Mangue Seco, north of Salvador, made even more exciting discoveries. Not only did he capture Roseate Terns that had been banded at Great Gull Island, but he also netted Common Terns from the Azores, islands located in the North Atlantic about 850 miles west of Portugal.

Investigations in 1999 in the Azores turned up a pair of Roseate Terns from Brazil, while the Brazilian bander found two Roseates from the Azores, demonstrating for the first time a regular trans-Atlantic movement for both Roseate and Common Terns.

The June 2016 issue of BirdWatching Magazine, containing our report about Great Gull Island, is on sale now at Barnes & Noble and other newsstands. The issue is also available on your favorite digital device.

You can volunteer!

Great Gull Island is owned by the American Museum of Natural History. The public is not allowed to visit, but volunteers are needed to help monitor and protect the terns. Volunteers who can make a one-week commitment are welcome from May to August each summer. Volunteers also help with the processing of data in the project office at the American Museum of Natural History, on Central Park West at 79th Street in New York City, the rest of the year. For more information, visit www.greatgullisland.org. To volunteer, write to the project director, Helen Hays, at [email protected].

Read more about the Great Gull Island Project.

 

New to birdwatching?

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, descriptions of birding hotspots, and more delivered to your inbox every other week. Sign up now.

See the contents of our current issue.

How to subscribe to BirdWatching.