Weather leads to trouble for breeding birds

RARE Little tern at Langstone Harbour.  Picture: 'Jason Crook
RARE Little tern at Langstone Harbour. Picture: 'Jason Crook
Picture: Neil Marshall

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EXTREME weather conditions have resulted in a ‘disastrous’ bird breeding season at Langstone Harbour, the RSPB says.

Only 14 gull chicks and no terns fledged from the harbour islands this season because of the amount of rain and cold experienced this summer.

At the start of the breeding season, there were nearly 5,000 gull and tern nests on the harbour islands and at the Hayling Oysterbeds, including 40 nests of the rare and endangered little tern.

Egg-laying started in mid-April, and all of these birds typically lay three eggs at the start of the season.

By the end of May, many of the nests at the Oysterbeds held small chicks, while the nests on the harbour islands contained eggs that were due to hatch in a matter of days.

Some of these nests belonged to birds that had already re-laid eggs after losing their first clutch due to tidal flooding in early May.

Floods in the first week of June caused tides to surge to dangerously high levels, resulting in many of their nests being flooded or washed away – particularly those belonging to little and common terns.

Chris Cockburn, RSPB Warden at Langstone Harbour, said: ‘Thousands of chicks were still at the fluffy downy stage, and not being waterproof they sadly drowned or died of hypothermia.

‘This signalled the end of the breeding season for many of the birds because the adults cannot get back into breeding condition once their eggs have hatched.

‘However, when eggs rather than chicks are lost, the adults will sometimes re-lay and try again if they can get back into breeding condition quick enough.’

Further tidal surges and bad weather in July resulted in the worrying figures of birds leaving the harbour this breeding season.

However, more than 60 black-headed gull chicks fledged from the original nesting attempts at the Hayling Oysterbeds.