Our Very Own Least Terns
- story by Lisa Monti, photos by Mozart Dedeaux and Ellis Anderson
Waveland now has some special visitors who have taken up residence in a prime beachfront spot. Least Terns have established their first colony in Hancock County at Bienville Drive. The birds were first seen in early May.
Wildlife experts are happy to see the birds branch out beyond their long established nesting areas in Harrison County and are making plans to ensure the terns can nest safely in their new spot.
“It’s exciting,” Sarah Pacyna, program director of the Audubon Mississippi Coastal Bird Stewardship Program. She said about 72 terns are nesting in 38 active nests in Waveland. There are about 40 small holes where birds can lay eggs. “It’s a fairly sizable colony for a new one,” she said.
Beach to Bayou
“It’s a safety mechanism,” said Pacyna. The colony near the Great Southern Golf Club in Gulfport had more than 900 birds last year.
The birds are about 9 inches long and have a 20-inch wingspan. Ours are the smallest tern that breeds in North America.
The terns belong to the Coastal/Eastern subspecies that breeds along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida. They winter along Central and South America’s coastlines and head north to breed in the spring.
The birds are protected by state and federal statutes.
Audubon officials asked the Board of Supervisors at their May 16 meeting for permission to put down posts and rope to provide protection but the supervisors delayed approving the request. The terns are on the Supervisors agenda again for the June 6th meeting. Bird-lovers are hoping this time they'll approve protective measures for the birds.
The public is invited to attend the meeting. It begins at 9am on Monday, June 6th, in the Boardroom at the County Government Annex, 854 Hwy. 90, Bay St. Louis (if you can't make the meeting, but want to weigh in on the tern protection, all the supervisors names and phone numbers are listed at the bottom of this article).
Apparently, some local residents, concerned for the safety of the birds and their nests over the busy Memorial Day weekend, took matters into their own hands. Hand-lettered signs appeared on the beach at each end of the nesting area, festooned with red hearts. "Hancock County Pride," the signs read. "Help protect our first Least Tern nesting site! Please keep well outside the marked zone." One sign had a post-script: "We love our baby birds! Thank you!"
It's not known at press time how effective the grass-roots signage was at alerting holiday beach-goers. Several groups of people were spotted lounging just in front of the marked nests.
“We are trying to get volunteers to steward the area,” Pacyna said. “The biggest threat is the Fourth of July. We see a lot more people on the beaches and fireworks. People may not realize they are shooting fireworks in a bird colony.”
The noise may cause the birds to flush, leaving the eggs and chicks vulnerable to high heat and predators like gulls and crows.
If you want to lend a hand to make the least terns safe on our beach, you can volunteer by emailing Amanda Odom, volunteer manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (228) 285-0449.
You can also contact the Board of Supervisors to ask for their support:
HANCOCK COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
DISTRICT 1 - David Yarborough
DISTRICT 2 - Greg Shaw
DISTRICT 3 - Blaine LaFontaine
DISTRICT 4 - Scotty Adam
DISTRICT 5 - Darrin "Bo" Ladner