Terns return to Gippsland Lakes

A parent fairy tern feeding  its young

Bird researchers are excited to report the first sightings of Small Terns in the Gippsland Lakes this year signalling their return to breed in the internationally recognised wetland.

Small Terns are important visitors to the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar site with these long distance travellers flying in from northern Australia and further afield.

“The first sightings were of one or two birds known as ‘scouts’ that come in and check out the area before the others arrive,” said Deb Sullivan East Gippsland Conservation Coordinator for BirdLife Australia.

“We are delighted that so far over 80 birds have now returned to known nesting areas on the Lakes with twenty-six confirmed nests, the majority of which are Fairy Terns.”

There are two types of Small Terns that visit the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar Site – Fairy Terns and Little Terns. Monitoring of these species is undertaken by BirdLife Australia as part of the Gippsland Lakes broader shorebird monitoring program.

“Small Terns are in dire straits as a species and threatened across their habitat range. They return to the same nesting areas and we have seen numbers up to 400 in the Gippsland Lakes in past years, yet less than 100 were sighted last year.”

Works as part of the Love Our Lakes program build on previous efforts and include assessing threatened shorebirds, pest animal and weed control and revegetation to improve Small Tern habitat. Further work to restore nesting habitat for small Terns and other threatened beach nesting species on islands within the Gippsland Lakes through sand renourishment is planned for 2024.

“We are delighted that the terns are returning to breed this year. We ask everyone to play their part to protect this special Lakes species.”

You can help the terns

Small Terns generally lay two eggs and raise the chicks on sand islands across the Lakes. The main threat is disturbance of breeding sites by human activities (including off-lead dogs, bikes, horses and vehicles) and predation by introduced species and birds. Disturbing the birds may cause direct destruction of eggs or the abandonment of nesting sites by the birds resulting in egg predation or eggs chilling or overheating.

Chicks are also very vulnerable when they are unable to fly and parents must use a lot of energy to protect their chicks – especially from dogs off lead.

Please read and observe any beach signage.

Please do not enter any roped off areas when installed and look for, and obey, any seasonal signage you may see on the beach this summer.

This project is part of a $248 million investment by the Victorian Government to improve the health of waterways and catchments across regional Victoria. Of this, $7.5 million is being provided to improve the health of Gippsland Lakes over three years (2021-2024), through support to the Gippsland Lakes Coordinating Committee and for the delivery of on-ground works and community engagement.