The Northwest Atlantic population of the Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii) is largely confined to a small breeding area along the northeast coast of the USA between 40? and 42?N. This population was listed as endangered in the USA in 1987 because it was dangerously concentrated into a few breeding sites (85% on two islands in the 1980s). The nesting population in the area from Long Island, New York to Cape Cod, Massachusetts has been studied intensively since 1987, in conjunction with a program of management of the breeding colonies. This paper summarizes the results of the research program and discusses the extent to which it has contributed to effective management. The regional population now numbers about 4,000 breeding pairs and has been increasing slowly since 1987, except between 1991 and 1992 when it declined by about 17%. This decline was probably caused by Hurricane `Bob' in August 1991. Roseate Terns have specialized foraging habits and are concentrated into a small number of foraging areas near the nesting colonies. The historically important breeding sites were taken over by large gulls between 1930 and 1972. Many of the terns moved to less suitable sites near the mainland, where they are subject to predation by mainland-based predators. Despite this, Roseate Terns breed with high success at many sites. The sex-ratio is skewed towards females; about 12% of nests are attended by female-female pairs. The annual adult survival rate (0.83) is unusually low for a seabird. Most mortality occurs away from the breeding grounds, but the winter quarters remained unknown until one roost site was found in Brazil in 1995-1997. A major management goal has been to restore former colony-sites by eliminating nesting gulls, but the success of some of these projects has been questionable because they may have attracted birds to sites with higher levels of predation. Although the research has yielded important information about the biology and demography of the species, it has taken longer than expected to obtain and analyze data from multiple sites on this long-lived species. Most work has been carried out at breeding sites: critical studies on feeding ecology and winter ecology have been hampered by insufficient funding and the paucity of self-motivated biologists. Hence, the program has not yet provided all the keys to restoring the population.
Additional publication details
Contribution of research to management and recovery of the roseate tern: review of a twelve-year project