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Conservation Of Terns

During the nineteenth century, many species of terns were rapaciously hunted for their plumage, which was valuable at the time for decorating the clothing of fashionable ladies. Sometimes, an artistic statement was made by mounting an entire, stuffed tern onto a broad-brimmed, lady's hat. Fortunately, the plumage of terms or other birds is not much used for these purposes any more.

In many places, terns have been deprived of important nesting habitat, as beaches and other coastal places have been appropriated and developed for use by humans. Frequent disturbances by pedestrians, all-terrain vehicles, boats, and other agents also disrupt the breeding of terns, usually by causing brooding adults to fly, which exposes their eggs or young to predation by other birds, especially gulls.

In many parts of their breeding range, tern eggs and chicks are taken by a number of the larger species of gulls (Larus spp.). The populations of many gull species have increased enormously in most of the world, because these birds have benefited greatly from the availability of fish waste discarded by fishing boats and processing plants, and from other foods available at garbage dumps. Gulls are highly opportunistic feeders, and will predate tern chicks, and sometimes adults, whenever it is easy to do so. The negative effects of gulls on terns are an important, indirect consequence of the fact that gulls have benefited so tremendously from the activities of humans.

Some species of terns are threatened, such as the black-fronted tern (Chlidonias albostriatus) of New Zealand, the black-bellied tern (Sterna acuticauda) of South and Southeast Asia, the Chinese crested-tern (S. bernsteini) of Southeast Asia, the fairy tern (S. nereis) of Australia, and the Kerguelen tern (S. virgata) of southern Africa.

See also Gulls; Migration.



Forshaw, Joseph. Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Academic Press, 1998.

Hay, J. The Bird of Light. New York: Norton, 1991.

Bill Freedman

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