Conserve Wildlife Blog

Storm Report From the Field

August 29th, 2011

New Jersey’s Black Skimmers Survive Hurricane Irene

By Todd Pover, CWFNJ Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Black Skimmers liftoff at Seaview Harbor Marina where they survived Hurricane Irene.

Most of us spent the weekend worrying about the potential damage Hurricane Irene might inflict on our homes and loved ones. As a biologist, I was also concerned about the impact of the storm on our state’s wildlife, in my case, the beach nesting birds I help manage and protect.

Hurricanes and other severe weather can be a matter of life or death for nesting birds. Young chicks are particularly vulnerable, but even adults are at risk in the most extreme storms. Although most of our state’s beach nesting birds have completed the breeding cycle for the season, the majority of the Atlantic coast population of piping plovers and many least terns are in the midst of migration and would have been in the path of Hurricane Irene. We have no way of knowing for sure what impact the storm had on them, but long distance migration is tough on birds in the best of circumstances. Survival of young during their first year is typically very low so this was not a good start to the post breeding season.

We had two active nesting colonies remaining in New Jersey heading into the storm – a least tern colony at Townsend’s Inlet (Cape May County) and a black skimmer colony at Seaview Harbor Marina (Atlantic County). Residents in this area had a mandatory evacuation order, but our birds didn’t have that option. Today I completed an assessment of our beaches and nesting birds in the southern portion of the coast and I am happy to report that both the skimmer and tern colony escaped the storm largely unscathed.

Going into the storm, the tern colony was almost done for the season anyhow so any losses there would have been minimal. The skimmer colony, on the other hand, still had a number of chicks remaining and about 800 just fledged (able to fly) young. And over 1800 adults! This is the state’s only major skimmer colony representing nearly the entire state breeding population. So you can imagine it was a big relief when I walked out on the beach and heard thousands of raucous skimmers and saw there was no visible reduction in the colony’s size. Like our homes and loved ones, Irene appears to have spared our beachnesters.

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3 Responses to “Storm Report From the Field”

  1. Carol Lane says:

    Such good news! didn’t know about skimmer colony at Seaview -1800 adults – sorry to have missed seeing them (actually don’t know about site).
    We are all greatful to you, Todd, for your vivilance and keeping us informed!

    Carol Lane

  2. quax says:

    Hi Todd!

    Maybe the three juvenile Skimmers that showed up after Irene in Massachusetts at Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary fledged from your colony!

  3. Todd Pover says:

    We all like a happy ending. And that still largely appears to be the case of Hurricane Irene and its impact on our black skimmer colony. But I may have been somewhat premature in my entirely “rosy” assessment. This week we found a number of dead or weak juvenile skimmers at the colony. While these birds survived the direct impact of the hurricane, they may be indirect victims – possibly unable to feed for too long a period, separated from their parents, or generally weakened by storm conditions (or all of the above)? A few were taken to rehab and hopefully we won’t find too many more dead moving forward.

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