Because of a long-term population decline in Gull-billed Terns (Sterna nilotica) nesting along the coast of Virginia, we began a three year study in 1994 to monitor hatching success and survival of Gull-billed Tern chicks at several Virginia colony sites. Colonies were located on either small, storm-deposited shellpiles along marsh fringes or large, sandshell overwash fans of barrier islands. Nests were monitored one to three times a week for hatching success, and enclosures were installed around selected nests to monitor chick survival from hatching to about two weeks of age. Hatching success was lower in marsh colonies than island colonies, and was lower in 1995 than in 1994 and 1996, primarily because of flooding. The average brood size of nests where at least one chick hatched was 1.99 chicks. Survival rates of chicks to 14 days depended on hatch order and year but not brood size (one vs. two or more) or time of season. A-chicks had higher survival rates than B-chicks and third-hatched C-chicks (0.661 compared to 0.442 and 0.357, respectively). The year effect was significant only for A-chicks, with lower survival in 1994 (0.50) than in 1995 (0.765) or 1996 (0.758). Overall, productivity was low (0.53 chick per nest) compared to estimates for colonies in Denmark, and was attributable to nest flooding by spring and storm-driven high tides and chick predation, presumably mostly by Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus).
Additional Publication Details
Aspects of hatching success and chick survival in Gull-billed Terns in coastal Virginia