New Jersey’s Black Skimmers Survive Hurricane Irene
By Todd Pover, CWFNJ Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager
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.