Terns Return to Alternate Virginia Site

When it looked like construction on the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT) threatened Virginia's largest seabird colony, ABC and partners urged action to save the birds. Virginia consulted with multiple stakeholders and the result: a successful relocation. Virginia's Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) worked with the Virginia Department of Transportation to lay sand and gravel at nearby Fort Wool and to moor substrate-covered barges nearby. In spring, returning birds were drawn to the new site thanks to playback and decoys deployed by Virginia Tech biologists, funded in part by ABC in partnership with the National Audubon Society.

Gull-billed Tern. Photo by Kathryn Carlson/Shutterstock

Gull-billed Tern. Photo by Kathryn Carlson/Shutterstock

By late spring 2020, thousands of birds were at the new colony site. Data analysis revealed that the “class of 2020” included 10,000 to 20,000 adult Royal Terns and approximately 5,200 chicks at Fort Wool, along with 200 to 275 adult Sandwich Terns with 100 to 140 chicks, hundreds of Laughing Gulls, and a few Common Terns. On the nearby barges, researchers counted more than 650 adult Common Terns with nearly 600 chicks, at least 140 adult Black Skimmers with at least 105 chicks, and a single pair of state-threatened Gull-billed Terns with two chicks.

Fast forward to 2021. The colony was again teeming and included 11 adult Gull-billed Terns, four of which were on eggs on one of the barges. The season's nesting data will be analyzed, assessing survival rates and overall success of the newly re-situated colony.

ABC is grateful to Barbara Fried for supporting this project and to McGuire Woods for their assistance. We also thank the many volunteers who worked on this effort, and the Commonwealth of Virginia for its actions to help sustain the colony.


Howard Youth is ABC's Senior Writer/Editor.