The Northeast population of Roseate Terns is endangered. Each summer, roughly twenty-five hundred Roseate Terns are found on Ram Island, a 2.5-acre island off the coast of Massachusetts. In the 1960s and 70s, gull numbers surged. Gulls drove terns off of Ram Island, until biologists began chasing off the gulls to encourage terns to nest there again. Their efforts were successful: today, about one in five Roseate Terns in North America nests on the island. The site is designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA.)
A Tiny Island Full of Terns
Written by Conor Gearin
This is BirdNote.
[Combine Great Black-backed Gull calls, ML 114621251, with Common Tern alarm calls, ML 98873, 3:49-3:51]
A flock of terns dive-bombs a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls on Ram Island, two and a half acres poking above Buzzards Bay off the Massachusetts coast. The terns want the predatory gulls away from their nests. Though terns outnumber gulls on the island now, it wasn’t always this way.
In the 1960s and 70s, gull numbers in New England surged. Nesting gulls overwhelmed the Roseate and Common Terns of Ram Island, driving them off.
The Northeast population of Roseate Terns is endangered. Biologists realized the terns couldn't afford to lose Ram Island and began chasing off gulls trying to nest there from 1989 to 1992. Then, they waited.
[Least Tern calls, ML 31511, 0:15-0:17]
In 1992, a few Common and Least Terns nested on the island. The next summer, two pairs of Roseate Terns appeared. Now, roughly twenty-five hundred Roseate Terns, including their chicks, are found on Ram Island each summer — about one in five Roseate Terns in North America.
[Roseate Tern calls at nest, ML 171678831, 0:42-0:44]
Ram Island’s value to birds is way bigger than its size. Sites like this are designated Important Bird Areas or IBAs. To learn about IBAs near you, visit our website, BirdNote dot ORG. I’m Michael Stein.
Senior Producer: John Kessler
Content Director: Allison Wilson
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Managing Producer: Conor Gearin
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Great Black-backed Gull ML 114621251 recorded by S. Mitra, Common Tern ML 98873 recorded by R. Grotke, Least Tern ML 31511 recorded by O. Hewitt, and Roseate Tern ML 171679831 recorded by P. Davis.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2022 BirdNote July 2022 Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# ROST-01-2022-07-08 ROST-01