Nesting Habitat for a Threatened Species on the Niagara River
Common Tern - Sterna hirundo
Common Terns are the most widespread tern species in North America. They can be seen throughout the summer near large bodies of water hunting for fish with graceful and acrobatic diving behavior.
Common Terns nest in colonies that can be made up of thousands of birds. Their nest is a simple scrape in sand or gravel near water where they can easily forage for small fish.
Despite what their name suggests, Common Terns are a threatened species in New York State. Habitat loss due to development, rising water levels, and competition with larger Ring-billed Gulls are the biggest factors in their decline across the Great Lakes.
Tern Island is the result of a cooperative effort between the Buffalo Audubon Society and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Construction of the island began in Spring of 2020, and the first Common Terns nested there in the Spring of 2021. This man-made habitat sits just east of Strawberry Island in the Niagara River Between Grand Island, Buffalo, and Fort Erie. In recent years, Common Terns lost nesting habitat to severe storms that damaged the breakwalls that protect the Buffalo Outer Harbor. Tern Island has provided new habitat for these birds when they were forced to look elsewhere for a place to nest.
Read more about Buffalo Audubon and Tern Island here.
Monitoring the Nesting Habitat
During the nesting season (May to July) the Nesting Colony at Tern Island requires dedicated monitoring by Ornithologists from the NYSDEC and Cornell University. Gull deterrents are in place at the start of the season that are removed once the Terns arrive. Weekly nest surveys are conducted to determine the amount of eggs and chicks. Chicks are banded before they fledge so returning birds can be observed in following years.
The colony faces several threats from predators, including mink, Night-Herons, and Great Horned Owls. Wooden structures are placed on the island for chicks to hide under for protection from predation as well as the elements.
Adopt a Tern
Help support Buffalo Audubon's efforts to provide nesting habitat to Common Terns on the Niagara River by symbolically adopting a Common Tern. With your donation, we will be able to provide staff to monitor the nesting colony, a boat to access the colony, and remote cameras to monitor the colony 24 hours a day.