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Byron Shire
April 22, 2021

Little Tern returns to Tweed

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For the first time in almost 20 years a pair of highly endangered little migratory birds have set up home in the Tweed.

The Little Terns have nested on the southern end of Kingscliff Beach, in an existing enclosure built by Council to protect another bird species.

Not since 1964 have a pair of the birds been known to nest at this site.

And the local council has begged people to leave the birds alone and, in particular, not to take their dogs to the beach surrounding the nesting site.

Once known to breed on the Tweed coast in plentiful numbers, the impacts of off-leash dogs, foxes, humans and four-wheel-drive vehicles on the beach have taken their toll and there have been no recorded nest sites of the Little Tern on the Tweed coast since 1994.

This scenario has been replicated up and down the east coast of NSW, and the Little Tern is now endangered.

The enclosure was originally built to protect the nest of another pair of endangered beach-nesting birds, the Pied Oystercatchers. Despite the protection of the enclosure, the Pied Oystercatchers abandoned their egg, as the level of human disturbance at the site was too much for them.

Tweed Shire biodiversity officer, Tanya Fountain, is asking for public cooperation to ensure the Little Terns are not disturbed and are able to breed successfully.

‘The birds take flight very easily. Little Terns and Pied Oystercatchers see humans and dogs as potential predators and the nesting adult birds take flight to distract attention away from their eggs or chicks,’ Ms Fountain said.

‘Nesting birds take flight on an alarmingly regular basis as people walk up to the fence, leaving the eggs or chicks vulnerable to predators such as seagulls, and to extremes of heat and cold if they are exposed for even brief periods. The continual human disturbance poses a real threat to the success of the Little Terns’ nesting.

‘Despite the fact that no dogs are permitted on the southern section of Kingscliff Beach, we get frequent reports from concerned people reporting dogs on the beach and near the enclosure. We even had a report of a dog in the enclosure threatening the birds,’ she said.

‘We request that people stay as far away from the fence as they can, and avoid walking between the fence and the waterline. Each time someone walks between the fence and the waterline the adults are taking flight off the nest, leaving the egg exposed. We are asking that if people do need to walk past the enclosure that they do it as quickly as possible, as this means that the parents will go back to the egg sooner.

‘It is a real pity that the Pied Oystercatchers abandoned their egg, because I am sure that if people understood they were affecting the success of the nesting, they would keep their distance from them,’ Ms Fountain said.

‘Please help by bringing this information to the attention of your neighbours, friends and visitors so the Little Tern nesting event can be successful.’

Fines of up to $250,000 can be imposed on those found to take, harm or kill an endangered species in NSW. The public are requested to urgently report any suspicious activity in or around the Little Tern nest. Please call Council on 6670 2400 or after hours on 1800 818 326.

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