The breeding biology and relation of pollutants to black skimmers (Ryn chops niger) and gull-billed terns (Gelochelidon nilotica) were investigated in South Carolina from 1969 through 1975. With few exceptions, the two species nested together in colonies located on barrier islands. We located 10 colonies, 7 of which were on the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge (Cape Romain); references were located that described nesting on seven other islands in South Carolina that no longer support colonies. Gull-billed terns nested from early May through July; the skimmers started later (late May) but also continued later (early September). Both species nested in areas subject to tidal flooding, and the two species persisted in nesting in several colonies despite intense predation by rats and gulls. Estimated reproductive success varied greatly from year to year and colony to colony; success in most colonies seemed low, particularly for the gull-billed tern. Residues of organochlorine pollutants in several eggs seemed of sufficient magnitude to induce adverse effects on reproductivity and eggshell thickness: however, the overall effect of organochlorines appeared negligible. Maximum numbers of nests located in a single year were 790 for the skimmer and 340 for the gull-billed tern: the total breeding population in South Carolina is unknown. Although nesting islands at Cape Romain and Deveaux Bank are sanctuaries for nesting birds, both species will continue to lose nesting habitat as additional sea islands are developed and inhabited by man.
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Federal Government Series
Breeding biology and relation of pollutants to black skimmers and gull-billed terns in South Carolina