New Hope for State's Largest Sea Bird Colony

Jan 24, 2020

Bird lovers are gearing up to protect the state’s largest sea bird colony -- asking Governor Northam to step in and protect the nesting grounds of gulls and terns that have raised their chicks near the Hampton Roads Bridge and Tunnel Complex for decades.

Scientists at Virginia Tech say about 25,000 gulls and terns nest on an island near Portsmouth each spring.
Credit Virginia Tech

For 30 years, thousands of Royal Terns, Black Skimmers and other sea birds have nested on a small island near Portsmouth, but this fall the Virginia Department of Transportation paved the area in preparation for a massive construction project.

Now, however, a coalition of environmentalists is asking the state to put down sand and gravel so the birds could nest on at least eight of the 23 acres where VDOT planned to put its heavy equipment. 

“What we’d like to see now is just a temporary solution really just to allow the birds to nest on the island this spring,” says Michael Parr,  president of the American Bird Conservancy.

Then, he adds, Virginia should build the birds their own island for use in 2021.

“These birds really like to nest on islands, because that means they’re away from foxes, cats, raccoons. There really isn’t anywhere else to go.  If there was, they would have gone there already.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is also concerned about harm to nesting birds according to Tom Walker at the Norfolk office.

“We have asked VDOT for an assessment of impact to the birds and bird habitat.”

And, he says, the agency will soon open a second public comment period.

“Have they chosen the least environmentally damaging practical alternative? Are they compliant with other state and federal rules and regulations?”

On Thursday the American Bird Conservancy took out a full-page ad in the Richmond Times Dispatch, asking Governor Northam to take the lead in this fight. 

“We’re asking him to be a hero for the birds right now, because that’s what they need," Parr explains. "There are several different agencies involved, and so having leadership from the governor could really be what we need to get this all sorted out.”  

Meanwhile, 67 people packed a meeting of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to ask that Virginia’s declining population of colonial sea birds be protected.