Arctic tern eggs destroyed in Mendenhall Lake nesting colony ‘wipeout’

Signs and ropes mark off closed nesting areas for Arctic terns at the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area.

Signs and ropes mark off closed nesting areas for Arctic terns at the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Federal biologists hope a nesting colony of Arctic terns will lay another set of eggs before departing the Mendenhall Glacier area later this summer.

All 18 Arctic tern eggs from seven nests off the Photo Point Trail were destroyed on or before May 29. Based on canine and human tracks found in the gravel, U.S. Forest Service officials believe someone entered a closed, roped-off area with a dog and destroyed the eggs.

“I was just deeply disappointed,” said Forest Service wildlife technician Gwen Baluss who has been studying Arctic terns for 10 years. She believes this isn’t the first time eggs have been destroyed.

“We were really excited to have a number of nests – possibly around seven nests – in view of this new camera system that we were experimenting with,” Baluss said. “And, we were really looking forward to being able to share some of the footage with the public.”

Arctic tern

Arctic tern. (Photo courtesy of Gwen Baluss/U.S. Forest Service)

Baluss said Arctic terns are very intelligent, ground-nesting migratory birds that live as long as 30 years. They have been nesting around Mendenhall Lake since at least the 1920s. The current nesting population there is estimated at 35 birds.

“Like most seabirds, they lay a large egg for their body size,” Baluss said. “So, it’s a big energy expense for them.”

Despite all of the eggs being destroyed, Baluss said they’re encouraged that some Arctic terns have not yet completely abandoned the Mendenhall Lake area. It’s possible they could build new nests nearby and lay more eggs within the next few weeks.

“Anytime you have a wipeout like this, I feel like it’s less likely they‘re going to nest right exactly there,” Baluss said. “It’s more bad for us then it is for them because, at Photo Point, it’s a wonderful place to watch terns. And, a lot of people hope that they continue to nest there.”

The nesting area at Mendenhall Lake is usually closed to the public until the terns leave for their Antarctic wintering grounds in late July.

Baluss said Arctic terns also nest on nearby Dredge Island and Portland Island.

After reviewing camera footage, Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center Director John Neary said it’s unclear who the culprits are. Neary said they issue citations to anyone observed entering the closed area. Baluss said they could also be charged with harassing wildlife under state and federal law.

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