The Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) nests in freshwater wetlands that are prone to water level fluctuations, and nest losses to flooding are common. We examined temporal patterns in water levels at six sites with Black Tern colonies in Maine and determined probabilities of flood events and associated nest loss at Douglas Pond, the location of the largest breeding colony. Daily precipitation data from weather stations and water flow data from a flow gauge below Douglas Pond were obtained for 1960-1999. Information on nest losses from three floods at Douglas Pond in 1997-1999 were used to characterize small (6% nest loss), medium (56% nest loss) and large (94% nest loss) flood events, and we calculated probabilities of these three levels of flooding occurring at Douglas Pond using historic water levels data. Water levels generally decreased gradually during the nesting season at colony sites, except at Douglas Pond where water levels fluctuated substantially in response to rain events. Annual probabilities of small, medium, and large flood events were 68%, 35%, and 13% for nests initiated during 23 May-12 July, with similar probabilities for early (23 May-12 June) and late (13 June-12 July) periods. An index of potential nest loss indicated that medium floods at Douglas Pond had the greatest potential effect on nest success because they occurred relatively frequently and inundated large proportions of nests. Nest losses at other colonies were estimated to be approximately 30% of those at Douglas Pond. Nest losses to flooding appear to be common for the Black Tern in Maine and related to spring precipitation patterns, but ultimate effects on breeding productivity are uncertain.
Additional publication details
Water level dynamics in wetlands and nesting success of Black Terns in Maine