Caspian Terns - Tacoma Colony

Jon. Anderson and Marty Chaney festuca at
Thu Sep 14 18:01:53 PDT 2000

Hi folks,

On Sunday Sept 3rd, between 3-7pm, Don Norman, one of my banding
subpermittees, organized a successful banding operation on about 125 Caspian
Tern chicks at the ASARCO smelter site in Tacoma, Washington. Caspian
terns are nesting on top of a large pile of soil (contaminated with arsenic,
etc.) that has been covered with plastic (No - the terns are not being
contaminated at the site!). We estimated about 250 chicks at the site, from
just-hatched to already flying. We did not collect an accurate count of
less than a week old, but there were several. We photographed one with an
egg tooth. It was amazing that there were still 2-3 day-old tern chicks at
colony at the beginning of September!!

The Team included: Don Norman (Norman Wildlife Consulting (and officially
assisting Hydrometrics, the remediation company on the site thru Natural
Resources Consultants in Seattle)); Nanette Seto, USFWS Biologist for
NWR; Gary Shugart, Univ. of Puget Sound Slater Museum; Jon Anderson
(Master banding permit); Dawn Garcia (banding subpermittee); Debbie Young
(Tacoma biologist); Jerry and Clarice Broadus, Kathy Mohns, and Julie Stofel
(volunteer MAPS banders); and local resident Danny O'Keefe, Songbird

We banded the chicks with the standard metal USGS band, as well as with a
series of color-bands to identify them as coming from the ASARCO site (dis-
tinguishing them from birds banded on the Columbia River colonies). All the
chicks we banded were given a pattern on the Right Leg of:

We had coordinated with the OSU researchers to band about 80 chicks with
individual combinations of 3 color-bands on the Left leg as well; the
remainder had only the "Tacoma" red-metal-black combo on the right leg.
We ran out of stainless metal USGS bands, so about 80 chicks remained
unbanded at the site; these were mostly the smaller, downy chicks.

We first banded about 35 chicks that were off the pile on the east side away
from the truck activity. We decided that we would herd the chicks on the
pile to the edge of the pile and corral them. It was more birds than we
expected! We put the smaller birds back up on the pile, and corraled the
remaining 90 birds in a cement corral that was present at the site. This
worked fine to hold the birds, esp since we had a tarp to keep the birds out
of the sun.

We had two teams banding and it went very smoothly. Other than10 or so
birds with bleeding toe pads (which all received antibiotic, and all stopped
bleeding quickly), we have no birds that were overly stressed. We returned
chicks up to the pile, but we noticed that they were not staying up on the
pile, so when we completed the available bands, we had to haul a bunch of
birds up the pile again from the east side and position tern herders around
the pile and actually keep them up top for half hour or so, until the birds
settled down, and the adults returned to the pile.

Several pink/chum salmon smolts and a staghorn sculpin were found. We
could have collected a lot of food samples, as the chicks unloaded before
they slid down the side of the pile when we herded them, but the Glaucous-
winged gulls rapidly came and ate the fish. Don was able to collect about a
gallon of dried tern feces for coded wire tag examination; the colony is a
miles from the mouth of the Puyallup River, and a portion of coho and
salmon fry/smolts have been marked with small (1mm) stainless CWTs.

All in all it was a roaring success, and an excellent time was had by all.
The weather was perfect and the rain only came slightly after we left.

The banding of these birds is important in understanding the movements
of this species here on the US west coast. Don has recently seen juveniles
and adults banded on the Columbia River in Seattle. He saw two adults from
the Columbia River on Sept 6, 2000 at the ASARCO colony!!

Don Norman and Gary Shugart counted terns on the pile at ASARCO last
night and looked at chicks for color bands for an hour. There were about
450 adults (again at about 1830, the same time as on previous counts of 600
on 9/6, and ~800 on 8/30 [am count]) and at least 230 chicks. Adults are
still bringing in lots of fish. Gary saw one FWS banded adult tern. We
accounted for some 40 of the banded chicks, but Don will go back earlier in
the morning when the chicks on the mound are more active.

Do the fledged birds leave immediately? We may be able to test that idea.
Will the adults stay? Important questions that can't be answered without
banding birds...

Keep an eye out for banded Caspian terns. Red over metal over black on the
Right leg are our birds! The right leg has a FWS band in the middle, with
the Top and Botton bands indicating the colony and age (adult or Juv), and
left leg combination indicates individual, so you might want to read the
Right leg first..

Please report your observations (date, location, color combination, etc.) to
the Bird Banding Laboratory, 12100 Beech Forest Road Ste-4037, Laurel,
MD 20708-4037 or contact them via the web at:
or call toll-free to 1-800-327-BAND (2263. The operators will need to know
the band number, how, when and where the bird or band was found. You can
also report them to Don Lyons, a graduate student under Dan Roby and David
Craig at the Oregon State University Coop Unit. Don Lyons is the best
<dlyons at>

Thanks for the help,

Jon. Anderson
Olympia, Washington
festuca at

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