Social Attraction—Bringing Seabirds Back to Desecheo Island

Desecheo Island restoration takes another step forward as U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Island Conservation, and Effective Environmental Restoration set up decoys and sound systems to bring seabirds back to the island.  

On rocky outcrops on the southwestern side of Desecheo Island, Puerto Rico two new decoy colonies of Bridled Terns have been set up. These are two of the four decoy colonies that Island Conservation, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and Effective Environmental Restoration have set up on the island in an effort to attract native seabirds to the restored island. 

For over a century, invasive mammals preyed upon native wildlife and vegetation, altering the landscape and nearly extirpating the once thriving seabird colonies. In June of 2017, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Island Conservation declared the island free of invasive mammals. Now, we are working together to bring the seabirds back to the island using social attraction which involves placing visual cues such as decoys and sound systems that play recordings of birdcalls on the island. The project is in its second year of implementation and so far the results have been incredible!  

Two American Oystercatcher eggs on Desecheo Island. Credit: Claudio Uribe

In 2018, after severe storm surges hit the Northern coast of Puerto Rico mainland and Desecheo, one Bridled Tern decoy survived the storm surges and remained out of the 30 that had originally been placed that season. However, this lonesome decoy managed to successfully attract a number of Bridled Terns. In addition to the decoys, the team set up solar-powered sound systems that call for Audubon’s Shearwaters and footage from nearby field cameras found one Shearwater perched on top of the speakers. This was the first time an Audubon’s Shearwater had ever been recorded on Desecheo Island!  

An Audubons Shearwater on Allen Cay. Credit: Island Conservation

This year, the team has set up two new seabird decoy colonies on outcrops 300 meters apart—one with 32 decoys and the other with 30. Both colonies are equipped with trail cameras to monitor them and record any activity. Two speakers are also up and running to try and attract more Audubon’s Shearwaters. Brown Noddy is the third seabird species also part of the social attraction project. Fifteen decoys were placed on Desecheo in 2018 and in 2019, sixteen were added to create a second colony for a total of 31 decoys. One sound system is also utilized since 2018 to attract Brown Noodies to nest and repopulate Desecheo.

Now, that the decoys are out, and the sound systems are calling loud and clear, the team is excitedly awaiting the next breeding season on Desecheo to see what may fly their way!  

Featured photo: Shoreline of Desecheo Island. Credit: Eric Oberg

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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