WILDLIFE enthusiasts who covered a rugged island with hundreds of nesting boxes have helped save one of Europe’s most endangered seabirds.
Their 33-year inheritance project on tiny Rockabill Island off Dublin’s coast has resulted in a tenfold increase in breeding pairs of Roseate Terns.
Rockabill, which is the size of a soccer field, is home to 85 percent of Europe’s Roseate Terns, which need undisturbed shorelines to breed successfully but no longer have suitable habitat.
In 1989, BirdWatch Ireland decided to help the birds when they realized that every patch of potential nesting space on the uninhabited rockabill counted.
Using simple wooden nesting boxes wedged into the ground in the island’s more arid parts, they mimicked the crevices that natural rocks provide, which the birds need to protect their eggs and young from the frequent wind and rain.
Conservationists and scientists from Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin who are monitoring the project have declared it a success.
When the project began in 1989 there were 180 breeding pairs on the island but now there are 1,800 and the offspring are helping to nurture two smaller colonies in Wexford and England.
Local school children, particularly from Balbriggan Community College, help make the boxes, which are checked each year and replaced as needed.
The birds willingly move into their timber-working class homes, which offer more shelter than nature offers.
“There are more than 700 boxes and every box is filled,” said Dr. Ecological evidence and solutions.
“The more experienced birds tend to go in and fill the crevices first, but the nest boxes then give the younger birds a chance to breed successfully.
“There’s a philosophical challenge in conservation that you can disrupt a system in any way to try to conserve it, but that’s balanced against the challenge these birds face from disrupting their natural habitat.
“They used to have a lot of colonies in the UK and Ireland, but rats and cats are being released on islands and they just don’t have as many options anymore, so it’s about maximizing the space they can use.”
Brian Burke, a research associate at BirdWatch Ireland, co-authored the paper and is also the main practical person who has spent months surveying the colony with a team of conservation wardens over the past three years.
As the photo shows, it doesn’t take long for a keeper to get his own camouflage thanks to the copious droppings of the birds.
“I was just doing the data — Brian was doing the hard yards,” said Dr. O’Connell. “They have a ‘rockabill coat’. At the end of the season he’s so stiff he’s standing.”
Mr. Burke has no complaints. “Rockabill is an amazing place and we are very fortunate to have such an internationally important seabird colony on the doorstep of our capital city,” he said.
“The tern keeper’s job is tough but rewarding. Nothing beats seeing young terns all over the island in late summer.”
Funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the project is being studied by conservationists in Britain and France hoping to strengthen their own small colonies of Roseate Terns.
https://www.independent.ie/news/environment/tiny-rockabill-the-island-off-the-dublin-coast-turned-into-a-refuge-for-threatened-seabirds-sees-ten-fold-increase-in-population-41929918.html Tiny Rockabill, the island off Dublin’s coast that has become a sanctuary for endangered seabirds, is seeing a tenfold increase in population