A catalog of Louisiana's nesting seabird colonies

Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program Report 34
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Summarizing his colonial nesting waterbird survey experiences along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico in a paper presented to the Colonial Waterbird Group of the Waterbird Society (Portnoy 1978), bird biologist John W. Portnoy stated, “This huge concentration of nesting waterbirds, restricted almost entirely to the wetlands and estuaries of southern Louisiana, is unmatched in all of North America; for example, a 1975 inventory of wading birds along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida [Custer and Osborn, in press], tallied 250,000 breeding [waterbirds] of 14 species, in contrast with the 650,000 birds of 15 species just from Sabine Pass to Mobile Bay.” The “650,000 birds” to which Portnoy referred, were tallied by him in a 1976 survey of coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama (see below, under “Major Surveys” section).

According to the National Atlas of Coastal Waterbird Colonies in the Contiguous United States: 1976-82 (Spendelow and Patton 1988), the percentages of the total U.S. populations of Laughing Gull (11%), Forster's Tern (52%), Royal Tern (16%), Sandwich Tern (77%), and Black Skimmer (44%) which annually nest in Louisiana are significant – perhaps crucially so in the cases of Forster's Tern, Sandwich Tern, and Black Skimmer.

Nearly three decades after Spendelow and Patton's determinations above, coastal Louisiana still stands out as the major center of colonial wading bird and seabird nesting in all of the United States. Within those three intervening decades, however, the collective habitats which comprise Louisiana's now fragile coastal zone have taken major hits from commercial/residential, oil & gas, and other industrial development, primarily in the form of coastal erosion exacerbated by these and other factors (Portnoy 1978, Spendelow and Patton 1988, Martin and Lester 1990, Green, et al. 2006). Moreover, during this same period, both geologic subsidence rates (Tornqvist et al. 2008) and mean sea-level (Tornqvist et al. 2002) have increased, along with significant tropical storm activity; all of which have combined to impact available marsh, barrier island, beach, and dredge spoil nesting habitat for waterbirds, especially seabirds, throughout the coastal zone of Louisiana.

The primary objective of this publication is to detail those coastal Louisiana colonial seabird nesting sites for which we have reasonably accurate data, in a tabular, site-by-site format. All major survey (1976-2008) data of site-by-site seabird species counts, as well as several smaller data sets, referred to in the site history tables as “miscellaneous observations” obtained during the May-June seabird breeding period, are included.

It is our hope that these data will provide a dependable foundation from which future colonial seabird nesting surveys might be planned and carried out, as well as showcase the importance of coastal Louisiana's seabird rookeries, and contribute to their conservation.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype State/Local Government Series
Title A catalog of Louisiana's nesting seabird colonies
Series title Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program Report
Series number 34
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program
Publisher location Thibodaux, LA
Description Report: 149 p.; Appendices
Country United States
State Louisiana
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