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Managing conflict between nesting common terns and herring gulls

August 14, 2023

Context: Due to the frequent depredation of eggs and chicks by herring gulls (Larus argentatus), numerous approaches to reduce their impact on tern colonies have been tested by wildlife managers. Previous studies have shown that the use of overhead lines presents a promising method to prevent gull nesting in tern colonies, but little work has evaluated if this approach is suitable for excluding both nesting and non-nesting gulls.

Aims: The goal of this study was to explore the efficacy of a preventative approach, overhead lines, versus a more widely practiced lethal approach, shooting and trapping. Specifically, we aimed to determine if methods differ in their abilities to deter both gull nesting and presence within treatment areas and identify impacts on common tern (Sterna hirundo) nesting within treatment areas.

Methods: We applied separate management strategies to two common tern colonies. In one colony, we removed herring gulls via shooting followed by trapping and nest removal, and in the other colony, we erected overhead lines with subsequent trapping at nests established in the treatment area.

Key results: Gulls appeared to adapt quickly to shooting efforts, limiting efficacy and resulting in no significant change in abundance from pre-treatment levels (P = 0.981). However, gull use of both the colony and surrounding brush declined significantly (P < 0.001) following trapping and nest removal. Meanwhile, the number of gulls in the colony area declined from a pre-treatment average of 56 to only six, following the erection of overhead lines (P < 0.001). Although six gull nests were established within the treatment area (overhead lines), they were not replaced once the parents were trapped and nests destroyed.

Conclusions: Tern nesting appeared to be unaffected by any of the implemented management activities. Our data suggest that overhead lines may present an alternative to lethal control when seeking to minimise the impacts of gulls on tern colonies.

Implications: The data presented in this manuscript can be used to guide managers in selecting actions to reduce conflict between gulls and breeding common terns. By using data-informed practices, managers can select the method best suited for their specific needs and priorities.

Publication Year 2024
Title Managing conflict between nesting common terns and herring gulls
DOI 10.1071/WR23021
Authors Jeffery D. Sullivan, Amy O'Donnell, Lauren Marie-Therese Lescure, Andrew Rapp, Carl C. Callahan, Peter C. McGowan, Tim Carney, Diann Prosser
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wildlife Research
Index ID 70247960
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Ecological Science Center