This post is also available in: Dutch.
Royal terns, Laughing gulls, stilts, Killdeer Plovers. All of these species are preparing for the start of the breeding season with partner rituals, mating, hatching eggs and helping the chicks on the fragile path to adulthood. Fragile and less successful every year, unfortunately, because the locations these animals need to successfully reproduce are disturbed on an ever larger scale by people, who are often unaware of the damage they cause. Damage in the form of broken eggs and defenceless chicks torn to pieces by dogs. A call for vigilance is therefore in place.
The species mentioned and various other species of sea-birds begin their breeding season in the month of April, a breeding season which only takes place once a year. Successful reproduction depends on a good partner, not only for strong genes in the offspring, but also to bring the chicks up to adulthood with great success. A hungry chick eats for two, which means two parents are needed to provide adequate and sufficient food. In April, it is therefore quite possible to spot these birds while they’re courting. Terns and stilts (Makamba) perform quite a dance ritual with their partners, which ultimately ends in mating. Terns are also known to bring presents in the form of small fish, given to the partner which gracefully accepts it, to strengthen the bond between the two partners.
After mating, the partners must find a suitable location to lay their eggs. All sea birds do that in locations not too far from the sea, such as the rugged coastline on the north coast (Playa Kanoa, Hato plains, Boka Patrick, Ascencion and Shete Boka), the coastline around inner bays such as Santa Martha, the Schottegat and Piscaderabaai, the islands that are located in the salt pans of Jan Thiel and the salt pans of Jan Kok, and on the walls of the salt pans. Klein Curaçao is also a popular breeding place for these types of birds. And its sited like these which are used more intensively for recreation these days.
In the period from late April to mid-May, many species of terns and other sea birds are on the lookout for an ideal breeding place to lay their eggs and raise their young. They will not chose the same spot every year but scout every year again for the best spot to nest. The breeding location must meet high requirements and must especially be a quiet and peaceful place. A little disturbance during the scouting is often enough to make the animals decide to leave, a previously ideal location. Therefore, it is of great importance that there are no disturbing elements in these potential breeding locations during the period of scouting. Here, human users of natural areas come in the picture to give a helping hand in making sure these locations stay ideal for breeding!
Nesting locations and an egg on the ground
Terns usually breed in large groups together (breeding colonies). The mass not only provides for protection, more eyes will see danger a lot faster, but also for the reduction of the likelihood that an egg or young is stolen, for example, by a hungry Frigate Bird or Caracara. The mentioned birds will not build a nest out of twigs or grass but lay their eggs on the ground. Both parents take turns sitting on the eggs to hatch them, or to protect them against excessive heat of the Sun.
Not all birds nest in groups. The Makamba does not, for example, but carefully chooses a place among the limestone cliffs where the female lays the eggs.
Terns, on the other hand, nest in groups. Once the eggs are hatched and the colony looks like a disorganized kindergarten with chicks, the parents manage to find their young on the basis of sound and then sit on top of them regularly to make sure they do not become overheated by the sun.
The breeding colonies and the individual parents hatching the eggs are extremely sensitive to disturbance and will abandon their eggs or chicks without coming back at the slightest disturbance in the form of stray dogs, bikers, hikers or quad riders. A lost generation is the direct consequence.
WARNING and information requested
Terns and other water birds who begin their breeding season in the coming period (late April to late June), which occurs only 1 time per year, need absolute quietness to pick out a suitable nesting site, to lay and hatch the eggs and rear the young. Therefore, it is very important that users of natural areas along the coast behave responsibly and make sure to observe narrowly whether there is courtship behaviour of terns, or observe aggressive behaviour (in the form of flying closely over the visitors head while making loud noises, or directly flying towards the visitors only to turn aside at the last moment), and whether there are large groups of sea birds sitting together. If you see this behaviour, it is important to leave the area immediately and report the behaviour with the location via email@example.com or trough the Facebook page’s Caribbean Footprint / Bird Watching Curacao in a private message. We can then issue detailed warnings for areas which are used as breeding sites this year.
Dog on the leash!
We ask everyone who walks dogs in coastal areas to keep all dogs on a leash, at least until the end of June, and to stop walking dogs in areas where breeding activity is found. It is of great importance that quad drivers do not drive through the said areas. And mountain bikers and hikers, we ask you to be attentive to which areas are used for breeding and to avoid these areas as much as possible.
The areas where special care and attention is needed: the Hato plains (along the coast), along the north coast of Ascencion to West Point, the salt pans of Jan Thiel (including the islands), the salt pans of Jan Kok, the salt pans of Boka Sami, the coastline along inner bays such as St Joris Bay, Fuik and Groot Santa Martha.
The period of late April to late June is the breeding season of different sea birds as well as several endangered species. We call on everyone who walks with dogs, hikers, cyclists and other users of sites such as the Hato plains (along the coast), along the north coast of Ascencion to West Point, the salt pans of Jan Thiel (including the islands), the salt pans of Boka Sami, the salt pans of Jan Kok, the coastline along inner bays such as St Joris Bay, Fuik and Groot Santa Martha, to keep all dogs on a leash and to report all breeding activity of sea birds trough the email at firstname.lastname@example.org or trough the Facebook page’s Caribbean Footprint or Bird Watching Curaçao.
You can give a hand in protecting the fauna of our island!