Gull-billed Terns have declined dramatically in coastal Virginia over the past 20 years, with apparently low reproductive success. They nest, usually in mixed-species colonies, in two discrete habitat types: large, sandy barrier islands or shell/sandbars on the edges of marsh islands in the lagoon systems. The smaller shell/sandbars seem to provide more consistent nestling habitat and predation pressures than do barrier islands among years. We hypothesize that colony site turnover (between years) should be higher in the more uncertain barrier island habitats than among the shell/sandbar colonies. Our results do not corroborate the prediction. We postulate that social (and other) factors may explain these differences.
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Landscape changes and colony site dynamics: How gull-billed terns cope at the sea's edge