Common Tern Nesting a Success at Howard Marsh

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By Karen Menard | Photos by Art Weber

On your next summer visit to Howard Marsh, take a walk along the Egret Trail, look up and you may catch a glimpse of a common tern flying gracefully overhead.

It's a rare sight in this area. These birds, which forage for small fish above the water, are endangered in Ohio and need sites like Howard Marsh for important breeding habitat.

Over the years, increased competition for suitable nesting sites as well as egg and fledgling predation from other species, such as great-horned owls, gulls and fox snakes, has diminished the common tern population.

But, thanks to a cooperative effort between local, state and federal agencies and a private conservation organization, we can experience the “rowing” wingbeats of the tern in the skies over Howard. 

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Floating nest platforms made from repurposed pontoon boats have been anchored in the wetlands along the Egret Trail. These structures mimic naturally occurring habitat, and through the placement of a few inches of gravel, plastic clothesline gridding to deter predators, and sun shelters for chicks, offer a good nesting option for these rare birds.

The project is a cooperative effort between the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, USDA Wildlife Services, Winous Point Conservancy and Metroparks Toledo.

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The good news is, the Howard Marsh colony has had average nest success this season with low mortality; and as of recently, 195 common tern chicks have been banded. The Ohio Division of Wildlife has been using the nesting platforms since the mid-1990s, and previous colonies were located at nearby Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge.

The platforms will remain at Howard Marsh next season, so if you missed seeing a tern this year, plan a future visit for June or July and enjoy watching the next generation.

Did you know? The only place common terns have been found breeding in Ohio is along the Western Basin of Lake Erie in Erie, Ottawa, and Lucas counties.

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