May 12, 2005 It's least tern nesting season at Buck Island Reef National Monument and the park staff wants people to give them a wide berth.
"There were 15 to 20 birds on the beach Tuesday," Zandy Hillis-Starr, the park's chief of resources management, said Thursday.
She said there were no birds the next day, but noted the birds, on the local endangered species list, are fickle.
The park will mark off the nesting area on Buck Island's west beach with stakes, signs and ropes to guide people around it.
Island visitors can walk from one side of the beach to the other by using the primitive trail behind the enclosure.
Hillis-Starr said by reducing the number of people walking near the colony, the chances for a successful nesting season are increased.
The terns have had only marginal success with their nests because visitors have not adhered to the closure.
Hillis-Starr said in a news release that if least tern nesting continues to fail, the park will be forced to close the beach area to all activities while the least terns nest.
She said that the Buck Island site is one of 15 known least tern nesting sites on St. Croix.
"They will be at the Salt Pond or Carden Beach, but will get flooded out," Hillis-Starr said.
The Buck Island nesting site is unique because it is not threatened by vehicles, non-native predators and dogs. Hillis-Starr reminded visitors that dogs are not allowed on Buck Island or the water around it.
Least terns lay a small speckled, sand-colored egg in shallow depressions on the beach. Both adults take turns sitting on the eggs, foraging for food and protecting and incubating the eggs.
The birds are easily disturbed by people walking nearby and will leave the eggs and fly toward the invader. Every time a least tern flies off the nest during the day, the eggs or chicks are exposed to excessive heat from direct sunlight and to possible predation.
If you have any questions or notice people in the least tern nesting area, call 773-1460.
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