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SCCF Aids Bird Conservation Through Re-Sighting

November 28, 2022

During fall migration, thousands of shorebirds and seabirds make their way down the United States to their wintering grounds. Many of these birds are banded with unique tags that allow scientists to identify and track individuals, and a large part of the SCCF shorebird team’s work is observing and reporting these tags.

“This data furthers our understanding of the exact migration pathways birds take. Conservation efforts can then be focused on protecting the locations that are most important for the survival and success of migratory species,” said SCCF Shorebird Technician Aaron White.

Recently, White managed to spot and photograph a species with notoriously difficult-to-read bands — the common tern (Sterna hirundo), a medium-sized tern most easily distinguished by a black marking on the leading edge of the wing, called the carpal bar.

common tern

“Bird bands come in different shapes, colors and sizes, and it takes practice and experience with binoculars and cameras to be able to accurately document bands,” White said.

common tern range mapAfter reporting the tag, SCCF was soon contacted by ornithologist Lee Harper, PhD, who banded this particular tern as a nestling in 2011 at Lake St. Lawrence in northern New York. Since the 1990s, Harper’s team at Riveredge Environmental, Inc., has banded over 44,000 common tern chicks in the Great Lakes region, where several states list the species as threatened or endangered. Thanks to these efforts, as well as collaborations with other organizations and volunteers, the number of common tern nests on the St. Lawrence River have nearly doubled since the project began.

“Banding helps us identify post-fledging dispersal patterns, important migration stopover points, and how long these birds live and reproduce. Re-sight reports of our living birds are especially useful to aid in our conservation efforts,” Harper said. “I very much appreciate SCCF’s sharp-eyed technicians’ hard work in reading these leg bands.”

Sanibel Island is a particularly rich location for migrating birds — providing food and rest to long-term winter residents that stay in Southwest Florida for the season, as well as short-term residents that stop before crossing the ocean to Central and south America.

Harper’s primary objectives with the common tern project mirror SCCF’s work banding and monitoring snowy plovers, Wilson’s plovers, and least terns.

”If we hope to conserve and restore our respective species, we must increase the number of hatched eggs and the number of chicks that survive to fledge,” White said. “With organizational partnerships and help from hard-working volunteers, we can all work together toward our ultimate goal — conserving wildlife.”

SCCF extends a big thanks to Dr. Harper for sharing his work with us, and we wish him luck with his future conservation efforts.


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