Kids Take 'Terns' at Painting Decoys to Help Scientists

Caspian Tern Decoys Placed on Islands in Pond A16

Scientists are working to encourage Caspian terns to breed on the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Refuge Environmental Education Specialist Genie Moore and USGS Biologist Crystal ShoreA small team of scientists from U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center and Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge enlisted the help of Vargas Elementary School in Sunnyvale to entice Caspian terns to the refuge. 

One of the purposes of refuge is to provide habitat for migratory birds. The refuge acquired more than 9,000 acres of former salt ponds as part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. Some ponds are being converted to tidal wetlands, which provide wildlife habitat and flood protection for coastal communities, while other ponds will remain as managed habitat for shorebirds, seabirds and other species.

The refuge, in partnership with the Geological Survey and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are designing new habitat and social attraction studies to establish new Caspian tern breeding colonies near the Mallard Slough Trail in Alviso. Caspian terns are seabirds that feed primarily on fish, including endangered salmon in the Columbia River.  As part of an effort to reduce the terns' predation on listed salmon, U.S. Geological Survey scientists Dr. Josh Ackerman and Dr. Alex Hartman are testing social attraction methods using decoys - lifelike models of Caspian terns-and tern calls to lure the terns into the managed ponds at Alviso.

Kids Painting Caspian Tern DecoysThis is where the students at Vargas Elementary come in. The students painted old and faded tern decoys to be placed onto islands in the managed ponds. In addition to the painting, students listened to a presentation about the project and dressed up as Caspian terns to learn about the birds' special adaptations.  The decoys can be seen from the Mallard Slough Trail.

Click here for a map of where decoys are located in the pond.



Written by Xochitl Rojas-Rocha and Dr. Alex Hartman, USGS Western Ecological Research Center