The Little Terns of Forvie

With the arrival of our arctic, common, sandwich and little terns it’s all hands on deck here at Forvie. The breeding terns here are of international importance and this is no more true than for the Little Terns. They are currently identified as a conservation priority under both national and international directives.

The tern colony overall has had a successful year. Sandwich Terns have had an excellent year with approximately 700 fledged birds with our Commic terns (Common and Arctic Terns) having an average year with a peak fledgling number approx 370.

Our little terns have on the other hand had an unfortunate year. A species that is struggling historically in the UK, the colony continued on this path this year and had a sad downfall predominantly due to predation and unfortunate weather conditions

We monitor all the species and ensure all due protection is given from ground predators, using an electric fence, and from human disturbance, using another fence.

Little Terns settled in on there nests here at Forvie NNR
A quick meeting for a chat during the breeding season

Early on the little tern nesting success had promising signs with 28 pairs settling in. The nests were monitored closely throughout the season and it was a happy moment to see chicks on the way and good clutch sizes.

Some of our first little chicks

It was a short lived moment as with the heavy rain and stormy weather over the summer, Little Tern nests starting to empty without any chicks. In the midst of this eggs were lost to avian predation as well. An Oystercatcher with chicks was caught on camera stealing an egg from a Little Tern nest.

Adult Oystercatcher stealing Little tern egg to feed its own chicks

Of the original nests few survived the predicament they were in but was a ray of hope. There were 10 new nests identified on the outskirts of the original colony. Many of these were likely a second clutch attempt from the birds who earlier lost their eggs and chicks.

Although it was possible for success of a fledged Little Tern, the season was getting on. Their chances were getting lower and lower by the day as birds they rely on for protection clear out of the colony leaving the leaving the Little Terns to fend for themselves.

As with the first clutches there was some hatching success but again bad weather and further predation decimated the final nests in the colony.

A Little Tern chick being cared for by a parent
Moments later, snapped away by a Black Headed Gull

This Little Tern chick is easy pickings for an adult Black Headed Gull. Although it was sad to see, it is a normal part of colony life for the terns. While this chick was lost and might seem bad, the Black Headed Gulls presence in the colony early on would have offered much needed protection and deterrent to bigger avian predators.

In the end, after a long season the Little Terns had no success this year. They are naturally poor breeders with low productivity but with less than 2000 nesting birds in the UK all efforts will be given again next year so they have the best possible chance at putting young new birds back into the world.