Thursday, June 6, 2024

Gray-backed terns produce a second keiki at Palmyra since rat removal at the atoll

 A second gray-backed tern chick has been spotted at Palmyra Atoll, several hundred miles south of Hawai`i.

Gray-backed tern chick at Palmyra.
TNC photo.

The first was raised last year.

The birds were killed off on the atoll by rats, but have begun to return since The Nature Conservancy, which manages Palmyra with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, eradicated the invasive rat population.

Many seabirds nest at Palmyra and many of the other remote atolls and islands of the central Pacific. But eight species known to the region were absent from Palmyra, and rats, which take both eggs and chicks, were believed to be the reason.

Rats were wiped out in 2011, and the island’s managers quickly began to see changes in vegetation and wildlife. In 2020, they began experiments to try to attract seabirds that might be flying by, using both recorded calls and decoy birds.

Last year, the first gray-backed terns nested at the atoll, and this year, more did.

 Our science volunteers Oliver (Dunn) and Cass (Crittenden) saw 5 adults in the last month and three adults in the area near the chick. They also saw an adult feeding a chick. Thanks to their efforts, we have more data to show that our seabird attraction efforts are working,” said Katie Franklin, Island Conservation Strategy Lead for The Nature Conservancy, Hawaiʻi and Palmyra.

Alex Wegmann, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s Island Resilience Strategy, said it is a milestone for TNC’s efforts.

 “It also emphasizes the value of decades of conservation and management by TNC, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and our many partners, as well as the efficacy of seabird social attraction methods,” Wegmann said.

Adult gray-backed terns at Palmyra.
TNC photo.

Gray-backs are one of eight species of seabird now missing but which may once have nested there. The grays are the first to return after the rat eradication. They are known in Hawaiian as pākalakala and their scientific name is Onychoprion lunata.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2024

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