Rye Harbour's Little Terns

Rye Harbour's Little Terns
Little Tern

If there is one species associated with Rye Harbour Nature Reserve it is the Little Tern, Sternula albifrons. That's why it features on the logo of the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.

This starling sized seabird that is with us from late April to mid-July and it winters along the coast of West Africa. It is declining and threatened nationally and is on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern - click here for more detail.

Can you see the nest with three eggs in among the Sea Pea?

It has two main problems:

  1. disturbance of its nesting sites from people, dogs, foxes, badgers, kestrels, crows and little owls.
  2. a decline in the populations of small fish close inshore.

We have extensive electric fencing to solve most of the first problem...

and put spikes on fence posts to make it harder for birds to sit and watch for the chicks, but not this male Kestrel!

For many years we had a volunteer Tern Watch and in some years we even used decoys to encourage the birds to nest inside the fence!

But there's not much we can do about the small sea fish stocks, except urge governments to manage the sea better through our Living Seas campaign.

Then there's International issues as the birds fly south for the winter...

Anyway we do the best we can and we are holding on to our small isolated population of this breeding bird, see the evidence below.

To maintain a stable population the theory is that on average each pair must raise half a chick each, but you will see that we are not doing this in enough years. Sometimes the problem is predation, but now that we have more effective fencing the problem is more likely that it's food supply with good fish years few and far between. We are working with Sussex IFCA, the Environment Agency and Natural England to study this aspect more - click here to download a report.

So 2017 was almost a great success, with six chicks raised to the flying stage from 15 nesting pairs. All they have to do now is fly to Africa... and back again! It's a good job the adults can live for more than 20 years.

This chick was one of this years "successful six" and it hatched from one of the eggs in the nest shown above. We hope it makes it back next year...