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A Tern for the Better

By October 11, 2022No Comments
Screenshot of the web page for the Tern Raft project. (10/10/2022)

Screenshot of the web page for the Tern Raft project. (10/10/2022)

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Marketing, Communications & Blog Coordinator

It’s no secret that many shore-nesting birds’ numbers are declining and several species are threatened. They face threats from loss of habitat due to development near the shore, extreme weather events, erosion, and people and their pets trampling through nesting sites. In Maryland, the common tern, royal tern and black skimmer are listed as endangered and populations have declined by as much as 90-95% over the past 40 years. However, an innovative conservation program is providing hope and safe nesting sites … in the form of a raft. A life raft, if you will.

Some success stories

All up and down the U.S. East Coast, shore birds, especially shore-nesting birds, are endangered. In many states, species are endangered, as they are in Maryland.

In July, Budd Titlow wrote about endangered least terns and piping plovers on a beach in Massachusetts. Up in the Bay State, state and federal agencies placed some access restrictions around breeding areas on popular beaches. After a couple of years, the numbers of birds began to recover, at least a bit.

In September of 2021, Mary Lundeberg wrote about creating an ethic of conservation and stewardship in elementary school students in Florida. Shore birds are threatened along many miles of the Sunshine State’s long coastline. In her “Share the Shore” project, partly funded by a Philip Hyde Conservation Grant from the NANPA Foundation, Lundeberg worked with Florida teachers to introduce students to the wonders of and worries about black skimmers, least terns, plovers and the like. Then the students created signs to help protect shorebirds and have been out on the beaches encouraging friends and family to be more aware of and avoid sensitive shorebird habitat.

The NANPA Foundation is accepting applications for the Philip Hyde Conservation Grant and the Jaynie Moore Greene Scholarship Grant through October 31, 2022. Learn more about the grants here.

OK, but a raft?

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and Audubon Mid-Atlantic collaborated in the construction and monitoring of a large, wooden-framed, floating platform that is moored off shore. In the first year, 23 pairs of common terns nested there. This past summer, 155 pairs did. That made it the largest colony of common terns in the coastal bays of Maryland. Royal terns, black skimmers and an American Oystercatcher have been attracted to the platform, and a number of chicks observed.

In some ways, the raft is success story helping birds find safe and secure nesting sites. Quite literally, a life raft. However, as one of the scientists noted, the fact that this artificial site is the largest nesting site in the region is a troubling reminder of how bad things have become.

Interested in conservation? Check out what NANPA’s doing, download the Conservation Photography Handbook or explore community science and iNaturalist collection projects all over the country. Are you aware or participating in an interesting or unusual conservation initiative? Let us know and we might feature your story in a future blog article!

Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He serves as NANPA’s Interim Marketing and Communications Coordinator and manages NANPA’s blog. He can be found online at or on Instagram @frankgallagherfoto.