Wildlife Research, Monitoring & Mentoring

Roseate Tern Sightings Link Two Hemispheres

ROST_mating (1)

One of the aspects that makes wildlife conservation efforts on Martha’s Vineyard so engaging is the abundance of migratory birds that use the Island’s beaches for staging or breeding. BiodiversityWorks staff work from spring through summer protecting the habitat these species need for nesting, feeding, and resting. The federally endangered roseate tern is a migratory species that draws a lot of attention due to its beauty and rarity. The island of Martha’s Vineyard falls right in the heart of their breeding range; while we do not yet host any breeding colonies, a few beaches here serve annually as vital staging sites for thousands of adult and juvenile roseate and common terns preparing for their long migration to South America for the winter. In 2023, we began a focused effort to resight banded roseate terns to provide data on where they gather together (stage) and the length of their staging period to inform conservation efforts. 

One tool wildlife biologists use to study migratory birds is attaching colorful “bands” with unique codes to the legs of individual birds (see figure 1). By accumulating “re-sights” of these banded birds, researchers can learn a lot about survival rates, migratory patterns, and stop-over sites for individuals and for the species as a whole. Since roseate tern is a species of such high conservation concern, we wanted to obtain as many of these resights as possible to contribute to the existing database and support recovery research efforts. Thanks to funding from the Daniels Wildlife Trust, we observed 32 banded Roseate Terns at Dogfish Bar and Little Beach in 2023 and reported these banded birds to the federal bird banding lab.

Figure 1 - Two copulating ROST, the top tern is sporting a PFR (Plastic Field Readable) band similar to those we re-sighted this summer (photo by Jeff Bernier)

Figure 2 - One of the certificates containing information on the banding date and location for a Roseate Tern we observed this Summer

After we sent our reports of 32 color band sightings to the banding lab, biologists compared our observations to their banding records.  In less than a week, they began sending back certificates that showed when and where specific tern were banded (see figure 2). Many of these birds were banded as chicks on nearby beaches like NY’s Great Gull Island. But two of the terns resighted by our staff this summer were banded much farther away. The band combinations MY8 and RH5 were on roseate terns that were captured and banded on their wintering territory in Brazil (see figure 3)! 

Figure 3 - RH5 and MY8 were both banded in Brazil. RH5 was banded just four months before our staff observed it in Edgartown, MA this summer.

These sightings highlight how science and conservation bring countries together to work across borders and habitats. The work that we do to protect migratory species on the island is embedded in an international network of collaboration. And these band resights are just one example of that teamwork and communication in practice!

<a href="https://biodiversityworksmv.org/author/silas-beers/" target="_self">Silas Beers</a>

Silas Beers


Silas joined the BiodiversityWorks team in 2022 as the Wildlife Technician. Good luck catching him in the field, though! Depending on the day he could be out on the beaches searching for shorebird nests, trudging through a bog tracking turtles, hunkering down in the woods catching bats, or wherever else the day's wildlife adventure requires. He currently lives in West Tisbury but grew up in Virginia, receiving a B.S. in Wildlife Conservation from Virginia Tech in 2021.

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