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Attracting endangered species to ‘safe’ habitats: responses of fairy terns to decoys

  • D. S. Jeffries (a1) and D. H. Brunton (a1)


The New Zealand fairy tern (Sterna nereis davisae) is considered an endangered subspecies. The aims of this study were to quantify fairy tern responses to decoys and sound recordings and determine the viability of decoys as a technique for re-establishment of this species in protected habitat. Sixteen decoy trials were conducted in an area suitable for nesting from 9 September to 2 October 1999 at Papakanui Spit, New Zealand (36°26′S, 174°13′E). The decoy models were effective in attracting fairy terns to a specific area. There was a significant effect due to decoys with >80% of landing episodes occurring in the decoy plots. There was no effect due to individual plots. A planned contrast between decoys with and without recordings showed no significant difference. The behaviour of the fairy terns towards the decoys paralleled live tern interactions, e.g., erect postures, one aggressive response and a possible courtship feeding. Fairy terns appear to be less social than other members of the Laridae family (although their population numbers make the level of gregariousness difficult to determine). Despite low numbers, the response to the decoys was highly significant. We suggest that decoy techniques could be used as a simple and effective management tool for a wide range of group-living species. Such techniques will become particularly important as the availability of suitable habitat declines owing to anthropogenic effects. Finally, regardless of whether the attraction of fairy terns towards these decoys encourages residence and nesting in this area, the effectiveness of attracting terns to a specific location results in a safe and efficient means of trapping adults away from the nest and/or outside the breeding season.


Corresponding author

All correspondence to D. H. Brunton. Tel: 64 09 3737599 ext. 7203; Fax: 64 09 373774 14; E-mail:

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Attracting endangered species to ‘safe’ habitats: responses of fairy terns to decoys

  • D. S. Jeffries (a1) and D. H. Brunton (a1)


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