More Than Just A Seabird Art Project: Inked Terns Will Aid Survival

With a stroke of a brush, Elegant Terns are getting special colorful ink to assist monitoring back in the wild. Photo: Russ Curtis – International Bird Rescue

These seabirds are getting a paint job to aid in their survival.

As International Bird Rescue begins the important task of releasing the rescued Elegant Terns back into Long Beach Harbor, the birds are getting some special reddish-pink markings. The alcohol-based ink is being applied to each bird’s head and chest feathers. In addition, all the terns have a small red band attached to one leg. These visual tools will aid in the monitoring of these chicks from a distance.

These markings are approved by the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory. The ink will wear off within a month.

Bird Rescue responders have begun returning the young birds to one of the two barges anchored not far from the Queen Mary in Long Beach Harbor. We have already observed the painted chicks interacting with adults normally after being replaced on the barges.

“We want to remind the public and bird watchers that these terns will have special markings to help us monitor this important Elegant Tern colony, “ said JD Bergeron, CEO of Bird Rescue. “We are hoping that boaters and other curious folks keep their distance from the barges, so we can give these seabirds the respect they deserve by allowing them space to raise their chicks, and to simplify ongoing monitoring.”

Pink markings on African Penguins released at Milnerton beach, Cape Town, South Africa, in August 2000. Photo : Jon Hrusa/IFAW

Bird Rescue and its partners have used this technique at other wildlife responses, including the Treasure Oil Spill in 2000 in Cape Town, South Africa, where all released African Penguins received a splash of pink paint on their chest feathers.

Beyond painting birds, Bird Rescue tracks their other released patients with leg bands. Brown Pelican patients receive a large, blue  band with white letters and numbers that helps citizen scientists track and report sightings of these majestic seabirds.