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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 August, 2004, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Storms kill rare seabird chicks
Roseate tern
Roseate terns are summer visitors to the UK
Bad weather has dented hopes of a record number of rare chicks being successfully reared on a tiny Northumberland nature reserve.

That is despite increased numbers of roseate terns nesting on Coquet Island.

The roseate tern is one of Europe's rarest seabirds, with only about 1,600 nesting pairs.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says 73 pairs arrived on the island this summer, the highest number since the early 1970s.

Hopes that a record number of chicks would be raised have been dashed by bad weather and food shortages.

Coquet Island is just 15 acres in size and is a short distance off the Northumberland coast.

RSPB warden, Dr Paul Morrison, said: "It has been a year of very mixed fortunes for the birds nesting on Coquet Island.

"We were delighted that the number of roseate terns increased again this year to 73 pairs, but all the birds nesting on the island have been dealt a double-blow by a shortage of food and unseasonable storms.

Unsuitable food

"Many nests were swept away by gales and torrential rain, while young chicks died because they were soaked and chilled.

"It has been as bad a year for breeding seabirds on Coquet as anyone can remember."

As well as the roseate terns, three other types of tern nest on the island - Arctic, common and Sandwich.

All have had a poor breeding season on Coquet. Only half of the common tern nests successfully raised chicks, while only one in three Arctic tern nests were successful.

The RSPB believes that a shortage of small fish, such as sandeels and sprats, also contributed to the poor breeding season.

Instead of bringing in easily-swallowed sandeels for their young, some terns tried to feed their young with unsuitable food.

Climate change and a rise in sea temperatures are possible reasons for shortages of sandeels.

Roseate terns are summer visitors to the UK, but populations have fallen since the 1960s for reasons that are still not clear.



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