Making a welcome re-tern

PUBLISHED: 09:27 21 July 2015 | UPDATED: 09:27 21 July 2015

Nesting tern

Nesting tern


The Suffolk coast has become an important nesting site for one of our rarest and most elegant seabirds. Jesse Timberlake, RSPB little tern warden reports on the work being done to protect them

Little ternLittle tern

When the first little terns arrived at the Suffolk coast from their long journey back from Africa the RSPB was ready for them.

These amazing little birds – a fully grown adult weighing in at only 70 grams – travel from West Africa each year to nest on the beaches of the British Isles, and one of their strongholds is here in Suffolk.

Each year, alongside our partners, and thanks to funding from EU LIFE+, we continue to improve nesting conditions. We must be doing something right because in 2014, we had a very successful breeding season with 18 fledglings starting their long migration back to Africa at the end of August.

Although this number may not sound impressive, you have to remember that the plight of the little tern in Suffolk has been bleak. In the last two decades their numbers have plummeted by 90%, and the breeding colonies of these ground nesting shorebirds have been reduced to a small handful scattered along the coast from Lowestoft to Felixstowe.

Little tern decoysLittle tern decoys

A huge part of last year’s success was down to the tireless efforts of the volunteer wardens at the little tern colonies, locals who were worried about the decline of these ‘chattering’ seabirds and who stepped up to help protect them. This community backed conservation project would not work without the support of locals willing to donate their time and effort to help their local wildlife.

Each year, we try to create even better breeding conditions. Wardens and volunteers have been working incredibly hard to prepare the nesting sites. At Kessingland and Walberswick, we’ve used hand-painted models of little terns, strategically placed to lure the birds into our best protected sites. This is the first time we have used model birds in Suffolk, so we’ll be watching closely to see if they work.

The volunteers have also helped us dig sand patches on some of our shingle and rock beaches. These will help nesting birds by providing a softer bed to nest on and keeping the eggs warmer when the adults are off collecting food. Visitors to the beach may also notice fenced off areas which we’ve put up to protect popular nesting places.

It’s too early to say what this breeding season will bring, but I’m happy to report that by late May a good number had arrived and were checking out the beach, looking for a good place to nest. By June, we were expecting them to be safely settled on their nests, ideally inside the fenced off areas, where they will sit until their eggs hatch. Fingers crossed for another successful year!

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