A tern for the better

The common tern, a delicate sea bird, comes to Israel from Africa in mid-April and stays here until August.

Tern 521 (photo credit: Itsik Marom)
Tern 521
(photo credit: Itsik Marom)
The common tern comes to Israel from Africa in mid-April and stays here until August. It is a delicate sea bird that chooses to breed mainly along the coast of northern Israel and in the Hula Reserve. Due to loss of nesting areas along the shore and the constant disturbance of human activity, there has been a decline in breeding pairs and colonies. The number had been reduced from hundreds of breeding pairs to mere dozens.
Recently the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, in cooperation with Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, started a project to assist in the nesting of the common tern. Suitable areas were chosen on the kibbutz grounds that were as natural and undisturbed as possible. There they introduced floating islands made of wood and positioned them in the middle of the pond. The location is surrounded by large fish ponds, which is one of the kibbutz’s areas of agricultural expertise. The ponds are populated with the potential food of the terns’ much-anticipated chicks.
To convince the careful terns that the artificial islands were suitable and safe for nesting, the experts placed decoys that looked like real terns. The trick worked. The terns, encouraged by their look-alikes, set their simple nest on the islands to create a nesting colony, which is now very active and noisy.
Courtship ceremonies began with the choosing of mates, where the male gives small fish to the female in order to convince her that he is fit to be a good father for her young. He can catch fish and help in the endless feeding of the hungry chicks. Subsequently, the terns incubate two to three spotted eggs, and the ever-hungry chicks demand their food. They are constantly sending their frantic parents to catch small fish from the nearby pools.
The good news is that the nesting colonies have increased the number of breeding pairs to hundreds again, and it is hoped that this method will continue to satisfy the terns’ conditions for breeding in Israel.