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Seabirds take a positive tern in Bunbury harbour

Fairy tern chick and egg. Photo: Christine Taylor/DBCA
Fairy tern chick and egg. Photo: Christine Taylor/DBCA

Fairy terns have had one of their most successful breeding seasons at Bunbury’s outer harbour, with up to 70 pairs recorded nesting there this year.

Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) conservation projects officer Christine Taylor said the threatened seabirds migrated from the north-west coast each year looking for a feast of whitebait and a suitable beach to nest on. 

“Fairy terns nest together in a colony, often on the bare beach, laying their eggs on the sand just metres from one another.  This makes them extremely vulnerable to disturbance from people, dogs and off-road vehicles,” she said.

“Most years, up to several hundred birds head to the Leschenault Estuary, and while they have attempted to nest in several locations in the past, the isolated beaches of the outer harbor had proved to be an ideal location for terns to raise their chicks.”

Ms Taylor said DBCA’s Parks and Wildlife Service worked closely with Southern Ports this season to monitor the birds, install signage and manage access to the beach while the chicks and eggs were at their most vulnerable.

“We also installed small simple wooden A-frame structures which provided shade and shelter for the chicks while the adults were off foraging,” she said.

“Each time we monitored the site there were several chicks utilising each shelter, which was very pleasing to see.  We think that these artificial structures assisted in the large number of chicks that fledged successfully this season.”

The nesting provided an opportunity for citizen-scientists from the Conservation Council WA (CCWA) Fairy Tern Network to include the Bunbury terns in their research project.

CCWA visited the site one evening in February to assess breeding success and to band many of chicks from the Bunbury colony. 

Volunteers from the Bunbury Birdlife group and DBCA staff assisted the fairy tern network team, resulting in 50 chicks and four adults being captured and banded with both a metal ID band and a red colour band. 

The birds will carry these bands with them on their northward migration and will be used to determine whether the same group of birds returns to Bunbury each year or whether they mix with the Perth and Peel populations. If anyone sights a fairy tern with any coloured leg band it can be reported to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..