Volume 45, No. 1

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Apparent survival of Royal Tern Thalasseus maximus and Sandwich Tern T. sandvicensis at Isles Dernieres Barrier Islands Refuge, Louisiana, USA


1 Nicholls State University, 906 E. 1st Street, Thibodaux, Louisiana 70310, USA (
2 Current address: Southern Illinois University, 1263 Lincoln Drive, Carbondale, Illinois 62901, USA


LIECHTY, J.S., MINOR, A.K., NEPSHINSKY, M. & PIERCE A.R. 2017. Apparent survival of Royal Tern Thalasseus maximus and Sandwich Tern T. sandvicensis at Isles Dernieres Barrier Islands Refuge, Louisiana, USA. Marine Ornithology 45: 83 - 88

Received 4 February 2017, accepted 3 March 2017

Date Published: 2017/04/15
Date Online: 2017/04/02
Key words: adult survival, breeding-site fidelity, capture-mark-recapture, Gulf of Mexico, Sternidae


The Isles Dernieres Barrier Island Refuge (IDBIR) in Louisiana constitutes a major colonial waterbird breeding site but is also subject to tremendous rates of land loss and habitat degradation. Restoration projects have been undertaken to sustain breeding waterbird populations on IDBIR, including Royal Terns Thalasseus maximus and Sandwich Terns T. sandvicensis. However, very little is known about the population dynamics of these species in the Gulf of Mexico. The objective of this study was to determine the apparent survival rate and breeding-site fidelity for Royal and Sandwich terns at IDBIR. A capture-mark-resight experiment of breeding adult terns was conducted during 2012-2016, and adult survival rates were estimated using the Cormack-Jolly-Seber model in program MARK. Adult Royal Terns (n = 283) and adult Sandwich Terns (n = 285) were color-banded over a four-year period, with 36% percent of Royal Terns and 23% of Sandwich Terns observed as returnees to IDBIR at least once in a subsequent breeding season. Apparent annual adult survival estimates were 0.68 for both Royal and Sandwich terns, indicating some breeding-site fidelity but also a degree of emigration or higher-than-expected mortality rates. Given that populations at IDBIR increased during the study period, we suspect emigration rather than high mortality rates as the reason for our low apparent survival estimates. These results support the hypothesis that waterbirds breeding in unstable habitats typically demonstrate weaker breeding-site fidelity, but further research is needed to determine factors affecting dispersal.


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