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A ‘Hail Mary’ for Maryland shorebirds pays off

On Maryland’s eastern shore, small islands used by birds for nesting are disappearing. That coincides with a steep drop in several species of colonial nesting birds in the state. But this spring, in what's being described as a ‘Hail Mary’, advocates have launched an artificial nesting platform to provide habitat for birds. Hari Sreenivasan provides an update on a story first broadcasted last month from the coastal bays of Maryland.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Finally tonight… We have an update to a story we brought you last month about an artificial habitat being built off the Maryland coast for several species of nesting shorebirds by a coalition of environmental groups and the state.

    When Dave Brinker and Kevin Smith took us out onto the Chincoteague Bay in Maryland earlier this summer, the only common terns we saw were decoys. They were on a new floating platform that had been installed in the hopes of attracting shorebirds like common terns looking for a place to nest.

    Well, it turns out that if you build it, they will come.

    In the last week or so at least four common tern chicks have hatched on the platform. According to Brinker, who is an ecologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, about 20 pairs of common terns have bred on the platform. And he estimates that there are still more than a dozen active nests with eggs.

    Brinker says the success of the platform as a breeding site shows how badly needed this habitat is and that it's a satisfying development for this $100,000 project, which is a collaboration between the state of Maryland, an environmental group called Maryland Coastal Bays Program, and the local Audubon Society.

    While the common terns that found the platform this year do not make up for the 90 percent decrease in their population that Maryland has seen since 2003, Brinker told us back in June that it was important to try something.

  • Dave Brinker:

    Because we're down to such low numbers, we have had to take dramatic steps to provide some habitat to try and maintain common terns in Maryland. And it's almost like in football terms, the Hail Mary pass. This is the last ditch effort that we can do until we can provide sand and create more natural islands.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    To see more, go to our website: pbs.org/newshour.

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