The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo
District Environmental Analysis Biologists Richard Ruby and Jay Miller, along
with the Floating Plant Crew captained by Tim Colburn, were at the Ashtabula
Harbor east breakwater, Ashtabula Ohio, May 4 repairing storm-damaged common tern
(Sterna hirundo) habitat.
The common tern habitat was constructed two years ago in an
effort to establish an additional breeding location along the southern shore of
Lake Erie. The tern has been absent from this area for decades due to the lack of
Common tern nesting colonies are rare.
“Currently, the only existing nesting colonies are located
at Buffalo Harbor and the western Lake Erie basin. Ashtabula Harbor is
equidistant between Buffalo Harbor and the western Lake Erie basin breeding
colonies, and so provides the perfect spot to establish a new nesting colony,”
said lead Biologist Richard Ruby.
Scheduled Ashtabula Harbor breakwater repair work provided
the perfect opportunity for the Environmental Analysis (EA) team, directed by
Biologist Richard Ruby, to set up breeding habitat as part of Corps of
Engineers’ “green breakwater” initiative.
The Ashtabula Breakwater Tern Nesting Habitat Demonstration
Project is an example of the Corps of Engineers’ Engineering with Nature (EWN)
Program, which is the alignment of natural and engineering solutions that
beneficially integrate engineering and natural systems to deliver economic,
environmental, and social benefits through collaborative processes.
Corps of Engineers biologists have employed a slew of
tactics to encourage the state-endangered common tern to nest on the Ashtabula
Harbor east breakwater.
“Selecting appropriately-sized gravel, which not only will be
accepted by the terns as suitable nesting medium, but will also withstand storm-driven
waves, has been the most challenging aspect of this project,” said Biologist
The nesting habitat seems to include all the elements needed
to establish and maintain a nesting colony: wire perimeter netting to keep
prospective chicks from tumbling to their deaths on the rocks below; predator
deterrent features; driftwood to provide cover and to simulate natural beach
conditions; decoy birds scattered throughout the habitat; and a
continuously-looping recording of common tern vocalizations. The only thing
that seems to be missing are the terns themselves.
A strong late winter storm brought waves crashing onto the
habitat, which washed away almost all of the nesting gravel and flooded the
electronic devices used to monitor the habitat. Before the storm, terns were
observed investigating the area possibly for the purpose of nesting.
Buffalo District biologists will perform maintenance and
monitoring of the habitat for one more year before handing the project over to
the Ohio Nature Conservancy. If the project is successful, it will provide a
means of returning the common tern to the local avian community.