We analyzed temporal and spatial trends in annual nest counts of Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), Royal Terns (Sterna maxima), and Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis) throughout South Carolina from 1969 through 2005. There was an increase in the number of active pelican nests from 1969 through the mid 1980s, although this was followed by a steady decline that continued through 2005. Numbers of Royal Tern nests have declined during the study period, especially since 1990. In contrast, annual counts of active Sandwich Tern nests remained relatively stable through the mid 1980s, then increased substantially and have since remained stable. During the early years of the study, a greater proportion of nests from each species occurred on colonies within the Cape Romain region, although this distribution appears to have shifted with a greater proportion of nests now occurring along the southern coast. At the statewide level and at each of the primary colonies, we observed a positive correlation in counts of Brown Pelican and Royal Tern nests. Mechanisms underlying the observed trends are unclear. We suggest that priorities for research include (1) determination of diet and foraging locales for all three species, (2) impacts of ectoparasites on condition and survival of pelican chicks, and (3) metapopulation structure of all three species. Management activities should focus primarily on protection of colony sites.
Additional publication details
Longterm trends in nest counts of colonial seabirds in South Carolina, USA