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Green Bay Tern Nesting Platform a Success
Midwest Region, August 1, 2014
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Forster's tern chicks were successfully raised on an artificial nesting platform in lower Green Bay.
Forster's tern chicks were successfully raised on an artificial nesting platform in lower Green Bay. - Photo Credit: Thomas Prestby, UWGB
Biologists from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources place tern decoys on an artificial nesting platform in lower Green Bay.
Biologists from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources place tern decoys on an artificial nesting platform in lower Green Bay. - Photo Credit: Gary VanVreede, USFWS

Historically, the southern end of Green Bay contained one of the most vast and diverse wetland complexes in the Great Lakes. The shallow waters and extensive beds of submergent and emergent vegetation provided a major stopover for migrating North American waterfowl and habitat for diverse populations of water birds, furbearers, invertebrates and native fishes. Long sandy points and a chain of small islands provided unique habitats, particularly for colonial nesting water birds and shorebirds.

 

Over the past 40 years, most of this habitat has been lost or degraded due to a combination of high lake levels, coastal erosion and sedimentation. Of particular significance was the loss of the Cat Island Chain, a string of islands and shoals believed to have protected the lee side coastal wetlands and submerged aquatic vegetation beds from storm waves, ice damage and sediment resuspension. Although seriously degraded, the area still attracts a large number of avian species.

After many years of planning, reconstruction of the Cat Island Chain was initiated in 2012 with the construction of over 4 miles of rock breakwall. The habitat features created by this breakwall structure have attracted numerous species of waterbirds over the past two years. Of particular note have been a variety of terns and numerous shorebirds, including the Wisconsin state-endangered Forster’s tern and federally endangered piping plover.

While the breakwall provides a significant area for loafing and feeding, the small amount of suitable nesting habitat in the area is dominated by large colonial nesting birds such as commorants and pelicans. These large, aggressive birds prevent smaller birds, such as Forster’s terns, from being able to nest. Therefore, this past spring U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists Gary Van Vreede and Jessica Jaworski assisted Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource biologists with the construction of a floating tern nesting platform within the protection of the Cat Island breakwall.

A larger than normal platform was constructed this year by fastening together several small floating structures that had been deployed individually around the area in the past with limited success. Several boat loads of cattail reeds where cut and used to create a thick mat of vegetative nesting cover over the platform, mimicking a natural mat of floating vegetation normally used by terns for nesting. Several wooden tern decoys were placed around on top of the vegetation to help draw terns to the platform. By mid-June, a large number of Forster’s terns were observed using the platform. Approximately 40 chicks were successfully raised and fledged from the platform. The success of this year’s tern nesting platform will serve as a guide to the establishment of more substantial and permanent habitat nesting structures in this area in the future.


Contact Info: Jeff Hemming, 920-866-1717, Jeff_Hemming@fws.gov
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