To Get Seabirds to Mate, Use Decoys!

Written by on November 1, 2013 in Marine Life

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey! Here’s the latest reader-selected topic: Seabirds.

Juvenile Arctic tern.

Juvenile Arctic tern. Photo credit: David Blaikie, CC-BY-2.0.

For six years, no more than ten Arctic terns fledged on the Copeland Islands in the north Irish Sea. That number grew a little starting in 2011 and this summer the terns had one of their best breeding seasons in decades — there were 1,200 breeding pairs and at least 700 fledglings.

Puffins also had success on the islands. Before this summer they had never bred there, but around 100 breeding pairs showed up and, although no fledglings were spotted, experts expect to see plenty next summer.

So what changed? Humans tricked the birds – in a good way.

Thanks to money from the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency Challenge Fund, 50 decoy Arctic terns and 50 decoy puffins were placed around the islands along with four sound systems that lured the birds to the location specifically picked by experts. It was selected because these breeding grounds are free from predators that target ground-nesting birds, giving the animals a much higher chance of success.

Many birds prefer to reproduce in the same place where they hatched so it can be a challenge to get birds to try new places. Decoy birds have been used in several other locations with other species to encourage breeding in new places. Seven different studies concluded that birds bred in areas where decoy nests or decoy birds were used and two found that three-dimensional methods were more effective than two-dimensional cutouts.


Puffins. Photo credit: NOAA.

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Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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