- by Ellis Anderson
Hancock County volunteers have joined with the national Audubon Society’s Coastal Bird Stewardship Program in a multi-tiered effort to save a Least Tern colony on the beach in Waveland.
Monday, April 24th, the group launched a new website, www.LeastTerns.com. The website’s “Take Action” page lists four easy things locals can do to help the birds in Hancock County thrive in 2017.
Nature-lovers were thrilled in 2016 when the first Least Tern colony established itself on the beach in Waveland, near the Bay St. Louis city limits. About 70 terns built 36 nests in the sand, laying one to two eggs in each.
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According to Sarah Pacyna, director of Audubon Mississippi’s Coastal Bird Stewardship Program, the organization wasn’t able to get permission from the Hancock County Supervisors quickly enough to mark the colony and erect awareness signs.
Since the terns lay their eggs and raise their chicks directly on the sand beach, they’re especially vulnerable to predators, storm surges and people who inadvertently trample the eggs or chicks, fly kites or walk dogs through the nursery.
The tern scouts have apparently decided to return to the same location. But Pacyna, who spoke to the supervisors at their April 17th meeting, was told to return on May 1st.
At that meeting, Pacyna will be again requesting permission to symbolically rope off the beach to alert beachgoers to the nesting birds. She’ll also ask permission to post educational signage.
Similar efforts by Audubon have been very successful on Harrison County beaches over the past years, where the colonies attract bird-watchers from around the country, helping fuel the local economy.
The Least Terns website offers Hancock County residents several ways to support the colony.
A letter writing campaign hopes to generate dozens of letters from constituents urging the Supervisors to support Audubon’s efforts to protect the colony. The campaign also points out that the colony has the potential to be an additional visitor attraction to bring economic benefits - at no cost to taxpayers.
Pacyna says that in addition to the letter writing campaign, the new website offers sign sponsorships. Local businesses will be able to have their logos/names printed on attractive educational signs. The signs sport a new Hancock County tag line - “Walk around – it’s the least we can do” - as well as the more familiar “Nest in Peace” slogan, used for years in Harrison County.
If the Hancock Supervisors give permission on May 1st, Audubon Mississippi will provide the wood to mount the signs and volunteers to post them around the colony. The signs are $25 for a 12” X 12” size and $50 for a 24” X 24” size.
But if Pacyna doesn’t receive permission from the supervisors on May 1st, the Least Terns may be facing another repeat of last year’s loss.
“Every week we have to delay lessens their chances for survival,” Paycna says.
In the 80s, the birds were so endangered that only 3,000 nesting pairs remained in the country. While continued conservation efforts have helped the population of the small bird gain ground, they’re still protected by state and federal laws.
Historically, these birds nested on barrier islands, but erosion from storms and land loss caused by industry has forced them onto the coast. Harrison County has become a safe haven for the nesting birds in recent years. Between mid-May and late July, sixteen colonies nest on the shore.
Audubon Mississippi’s programs to raise awareness and engage the support of the public has been successful through the years in Harrison County, which has become a popular destination for bird-watchers.
For more information, go to www.LeastTerns.com. To purchase a sign sponsorship or send a letter to the Hancock Supervisors, go directly to the "Take Action" page.
The Least Terns website is sponsored by Audubon Mississippi's Coastal Bird Stewardship Program and the Shoofly Magazine.