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It is now the middle of April and slowly but surely the breeding season for sea birds and coastal birds is starting again. Whereas some tern species have practically disappeared from the radar in the past months, they are suddenly back, and in huge numbers. Anyone who has been to Playa Kanoa in recent weeks will have seen the big group of Royal Terns there. And the observant viewer will also have seen coastal birds such as the American Oystercatcher, very busy with extensive dance rituals and crazy sounds. The season of mating rituals and mutual attentions to firm the partner bonds and be able to work together on a successful next generation of these birds is here again. But what happens exactly and what can YOU do to help?
Important islands for breeding
Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao are important islands in the breeding season of different types of terns and other coastal and sea birds. In various places, including the small islands off the south coast of Aruba and saliñas and salt pans of Curaçao and Bonaire, the birds often flock down massively to lay and hatch eggs in the period from mid April to mid July, and raise their chicks for a new generation. A very intensive breeding season consisting of creating couples through partner rituals, mating, laying eggs, hatching and then successfully raising the chicks.
But the breeding season of these coastal and sea birds is not always very successful, and unfortunately that is again due to the ill-conceived actions of humanity. Things that we can easily change, by being aware of the consequences of our actions and the adaptation of our own behaviour. Simple steps, with which we can all contribute to a piece of nature protection, no more broken eggs or dog-torn defenceless chicks, without us having to pay a single penny. Who would not want that!
Increasing information about breeding behaviour
On Curaçao we are gathering more and more information each year about the breeding behaviour of the coastal and seabirds that breed on our island. Not only about the locations these animals will chose to raise their offspring, but also about which species chose our island as a breeding ground, the breeding success and especially the disturbances. For example, we see a growing awareness among islanders about the breeding period and why one must be careful and must leave certain things for a short while. And in addition, people keep their eyes and ears open and report breeding locations and disturbances at Bird Watching Curaçao.
We now have a better understanding of the locations of the breeding locations, so that we can warn more specifically about locations where people should preferably not go to walk their dogs or drive around in quads. All thanks to the dozens of people who walk and / or cycle in nature and pay attention to what is happening.
Important breeding locations
After mating, the partners must find a suitable location to lay their eggs. All seabirds do this at locations not too far from the sea, such as the rugged coastline on the north coast:
- Playa Kanoa
- Hato plains
- Boka Patrick
- Shete Boka
And the coastline around inland waters such as:
- Santa Martha
- Piscadera Bay
- St. Joris
- the islands in the middle of the salt pans of Jan Thiel and the salt pans of Boka Samí, and on the walls of these salt pans.
Klein Curaçao is also a popular place for this type of bird. And let all these be just the places that are used increasingly for recreational purposes.
In the period of late April to mid-May, many species of terns and other sea birds are looking for an ideal breeding ground for their eggs. Most will not use exactly the same location every year, but will look every year for the best place to nest. The breeding site must measure up to high requirements. Peace an quiet is a very important requirement for the birds. Just a small disturbance is enough to make the animals decide to leave. That is why it is very important that no disruptive elements can be found at potential breeding locations during the ‘scouting’ period. And anyone who walks, cycles, or walks their dogs in nature reserves can help by being alert, and by leaving the location immediately as soon as they see an elevated activity of these birds.
Nesting locations and eggs on the ground
Terns usually breed together in large groups (breeding colonies). The large group not only ensures protection, more eyes see danger faster, but will also reduce the chance that an egg or young is stolen, for example by a hungry Frigate bird or Warawara.
In most cases the birds do not make a nest of twigs or grass, but simply lay their eggs on the ground, after which both parents change turns to sit on the eggs and hatch them or protect them against the excessive heat of the sun.
Not all birds nest in groups. The Shon Piet or American Oystercatcher does not do that, for example, but carefully chooses a spot between the limestone rocks where the female lays the egg. Terns, on the other hand, breed in groups. Once the eggs have hatched and the breeding colony looks like a disorganized crèche with chicks, the parents know how to find their youngsters on the basis of sound and then sit on top of them regularly to ensure that they do not overheat by the sun.
The breeding colonies and the individual breeding birds are extremely sensitive to disturbance and will leave their eggs or chicks at the slightest disturbance, in the form of loose dogs, mountain bikers, hikers or quad drivers, without coming back. With a lost generation as a result.
Keep your eyes open and help!
Terns and other waterfowl that start their breeding season in the coming period (end of April up to and including the end of June), which takes place only once a year, need absolute rest for finding a suitable breeding location, laying and hatching the eggs and raising the young. That is why it is of great importance that users of nature reserves on the coast behave responsibly and, above all, observe carefully whether there is courtship behaviour of terns, or whether aggressive behaviour can be detected (in the form of flying close over your head with a lot of screeching sounds or coming straight at you and deviating at the last moment), and if there are certain large groups of sea birds together. If you see this behaviour, it is important to leave the area immediately and report the behaviour together with the location via email@example.com or via the Facebook pages Caribbean Footprint / Bird Watching Curaçao in a private message. We can then issue targeted warnings for the areas that are being used this year as breeding grounds.
DOGS ON LEASH
In addition, we ask everyone who runs with or walks dogs in coastal areas to keep all dogs on a leash at least until the end of June and if there is breeding activity somewhere there, no longer walking in that location until the end of June. It is very important that quad-drivers do not drive through the areas mentioned. We also ask mountain bikers and hikers to be attentive and to avoid areas where breeding activity can be seen.
The areas where being careful is highly are:
- the Hato plains (along the coast)
- along the north coast of Ascencion up to and including Westpunt
- the salt pans of Jan Thiel (including the islands)
- the salt pans of Boka Samí
- the salt pans of Jan Kok
- the coastline along inland waters such as Sint Jorisbaai, Fuik and Groot Santa Martha.
Report breeding activity
If you see breeding activity of sea birds and coastal birds at a certain location, please notify us via firstname.lastname@example.org or via a private message on the facebook page: ‘Bird Watching Curacao‘, ‘Curaçao Footprint Foundation‘ or ‘Caribbean Footprint‘ .
Signs for users!
One of the projects we have worked on this year with a group of volunteers is the production of warning signs for the human users of nature reserves where terns, Oystercatchers and other coastal birds have their nests. During Curadoet in March, Curaçao Footprint Foundation worked with a group of volunteers to design the plates and make them by hand. These season signs are very simple, as can also be seen on the photo. A white sign with ‘WARNING‘ in red and the text ‘Bird nesting area’. At the top right a wooden tern is attached to make clear which birds are involved. Bottom left a sign with the international symbol to align dogs. Then two very simple requests that every user of the nature areas in question can meet, namely: ‘Dogs on leash’ and ‘keep off salt pans’.
Because all coastal and sea birds mentioned simply lay their eggs on the ground and mainly look for coral stones, such as those of the walls of the various salt pans on the island, it is extremely important NOT to walk on these walls. The eggs are simply on the ground and have exactly the same color as the limestone surface. So you will not see them.
DOGS ON LEASH
We can not say this enough! The importance of dogs on the leash, or rather simply to not walk with the dogs in these areas (until the beginning of July) is already described in the text but deserves even more attention. Even though your dog is trained not to go after the birds, the uncontrolled running of the animals in these breeding environments causes so much stress for the birds that they leave their nests and do not return. The eggs and the chicks are then left to their fate. And it is of course very easy to break the eggs in enthusiasm. No animal lover wants to be responsible for that. So ALWAYS keep dogs on the leash and please also address other dog owners in these areas during this season. Together we can ensure that this coming breeding season becomes a success for the birds.