Every Bird Matters
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Posts Tagged ‘tern’

July 22, 2020

New Scientific Paper Published: Caspian Terns Saved, Rehabilitated, and Released by International Bird Rescue Are Surviving and Breeding!

Bird Rescue is proud to announce the publication of an important scientific paper on a rescue-and-rehabilitation effort that led to a notable success: the post-release survival and breeding of a group of Caspian Terns in Southern California.

The paper was published in 2020 Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences.

The story began in 2006 and 2007 in the Port of Long Beach, one of the busiest shipping ports on the west coast and near a favored breeding colony locale for both Caspian and Elegant Terns in southern California. In both years, disastrous events threatened the lives of tern chicks born in the Port of Long Beach.

In 2006, workers cleaning the deck of a barge deliberately flushed Caspian Tern chicks—too young to survive independently—into the Pacific Ocean. In 2007, suspected human disturbances caused another group of tern chicks to wind up floundering in the water. Fortunately, Bird Rescue was able to rescue some of these young birds and take them into care at its Los Angeles Wildlife Center.

Read: Rare Tern Colony Decimated in Long Beach, CA

The fact that these chicks were able to survive and breed after release is especially noteworthy because terns pose unique challenges for rehabilitators. Adult terns typically nest in colonies and are plunge-divers, which means they raise their young communally and they hunt by hovering over the water in flight, spotting fish below the surface, and then plunging into the water to catch their prey. Becoming effective at feeding in this fashion requires training and practice, so young terns spend many months flying with and being guided and supplementally fed by their parents to master this skill well enough to survive on their own. Unfortunately, this type of learning is pretty much impossible to replicate in captivity. Conservation efforts that work well with other species of birds, such as captive rearing for wild release, are not suitable for terns. And the situation is made more desperate by the fact that critically endangered tern species population numbers continue to drop: tern colonies remain vulnerable to environmental disasters and human disturbances that disrupt breeding for an entire colony, or kill all of its young of the year at once.

Photo of Caspian Terns in care after rescue in 2006 at International Bird Rescue's Los Angeles Wildlife Center

Caspian Terns in care after rescue in July 2006 at Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center. They were later released back to the wild in August. Photo: International Bird Rescue

Bird Rescue pioneered a unique, “natural” method for turning the rescued chicks into capable, self-sufficient adult terns. The fact that some of the rescued chicks have been seen as adults, alive and in breeding colonies years later, is a strong sign of the effort’s success. With Bird Rescue’s care and help, these chicks overcame their traumatic early life. These very young birds learned to fend for themselves and survive, and were able to breed successfully as adults. This validates the care regimen at Bird Rescue and gives us hope for future populations.

As rehabilitators, we feel proud knowing that our extensive rehabilitation efforts were a success. We also want to acknowledge the expert collaborative help we received from ornithologist Dr. Charlie Collins, Professor Emeritus at California State University of Long Beach.

To understand how we solved the challenges of rehabilitating these terns, please read Survival and Recruitment of Rehabilitated Caspian Terns in Southern California.

The final paper was published in the 2020 Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences.

July 3, 2009

Good news for at least one Caspian Tern

We have some good news to share this week. On July 1, 2009 we received word that one of the Caspian Terns chicks that Bird Rescue staff and volunteers nursed back to health in 2006 was spotted recently at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve colony near Huntington Beach, CA.

Releasing Caspian Terns from 2006 Long Beach, CA barge incident. Photo: International Bird Rescue

This banded bird was one of two dozen baby terns rescued after their nests were washed away by crass barge workers cleaning structures in the harbor. The spotted tern also appears to be a breeding bird.

Many people may remember that in the summer of 2006, approximately 2,000 Caspian and Elegant terns nested on two empty barges in the Long Beach, California Harbor. The colony was the northernmost breeding colony in the world and the first recorded colony established on barges. News of the rare colony spread quickly and stories began appearing in newspaper, television and birder blogs.

On June 28, 2006 International Bird Rescue received urgent reports of dead baby terns washing up on some beaches in Long Beach. Our rehabilitation staff immediately went to investigate and found over 300 mostly dead baby terns, some only a day old, littering the beach. 13 live baby terns were rescued and rushed to our center in San Pedro. It was clear that somehow these birds were pushed off one of the barges! News crews recorded the crime scene while U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and California Dept. of Fish & Game began investigating.

Barge located in the Port of Long Beach, CA.

The next night, Thursday, June 29, the second barge of terns was moved and all the baby terns from that barge were again swept into the harbor. On Friday morning hundreds more dead and dying tern babies littered the same beach. Our staff responded again. All in all a total of 24 baby terns were rescued alive and 405 dead baby terns were collected and kept as evidence.

Collecting dead terns that washed up on the shore in Long Beach, CA. Photos: International Bird Rescue

It was a tragic and heartbreaking ending to what had become a thrilling sight for everyone who saw the thriving colony. Bird Rescue staff cared for the live birds and also took on the gruesome task of counting every body as evidence. (Migratory birds are protected by both state and federal laws and animal cruelty is a felony in California.)

We ended up raising and rehabilitating ten elegant tern chicks and 15 Caspian tern chicks. Six weeks later the elegant tern chicks had caught on quickly to feeding on live fish and grew to be strong and capable hunters; but the Caspian terns continued to beg and did not feed as aggressively as the elegant terns did. Tern biologists told us that it is typical for them to act lazy and beg to their parents for long periods of time. The decision was made to release the two species separately, at two different locations.

On August 14, 2006, nine elegant terns were released at Cabrillo Beach, where other of their species were feeding. They had been fitted with double bands, one Federal and one color and also had been marked with a bright green dot, so birders could easily identify and report the sighting of them.

The bird seen at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve had been released at the Salton Sea with the rest of the chicks on August, 19, 2006. We worked with tern biologist, Kathy Molina, who banded the chicks with both with a service band (# 925-76178) and an alphanumeric band (C-45). This bird was missing the plastic alphanumeric band at Bolsa Chica, which is not surprise as they don’t always last that long. When released at the Salton Sea, it was of mid-weight and spotted hanging around for a week afterwards, then it wasn’t seen again.

The following Saturday, the 15 Caspian Terns were driven to Salton Sea where thousands of their species were nesting, feeding and their was an abundance of small fish to feed on. We felt that being among other Caspian’s would give them the best chance of survival.

The company charged for pushing the terns chicks off the barge admitted their crime and said that they wanted to clear the barge decks so that they could fire off fireworks for the 4th of July. In 2008 the company was found guilty of cruelty and was only given a $15,000 fine that went to the National Wildlife Federation. Bird Rescue was NOT REIMBURSED for a single penny of the $30,000 plus that it cost us to pick up the dead birds, save them, rehabilitate the live chicks, work with agency people to build a case and deal with the emotional effects of this tern massacre!

Looking for the silver lining

Rescued Caspian Terns from 2006 barge incident in care at International Bird Rescue

Rescued Caspian Terns from the 2006 barge incident in outdoor aviary at Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center. Photo: International Bird Rescue

This is a significant sighting, three years later, and although it is only one bird it implies that more may have survived and that our techniques in rehabilitating tern chicks works. The tern colonies in Long Beach Harbor have since taken up nesting on a good landfill area in the harbor and seem to be doing well.

The silver lining to this story is that at least one these chicks has made it. We can assume and hope that others may have survived as well. Bird Rescue bands all its released birds and receives less that a 1% sighting of banded birds.

From 2006: Rare tern colony decimated