A large seabird colony calls a disused Civil War-era military installation home to HRBT on the South Island

HAMPTON, Virginia – Fort Wool, a disused Civil War-era military installation near the town of Hampton, isn’t just a historic site. It’s also where thousands of seabirds, including five state-threatened species, come to nest each year after the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources moved their habitat off South Bridge Island. Hampton Roads tunnel.

The move took place in 2020, with the fort’s former parade ground being converted from a lawn to a sand flat to encourage birds to nest. Barges have also been anchored off Fort Wool to provide more places for birds to nest.

Nearly 20,000 birds used the habitat after it was relocated, with up to 6,000 chicks hatching during the 2020 nesting season.

This year, DWR wildlife biologist Meagan Thomas said she saw royal terns, sandwich terns, black skimmers, common terns and gull-billed terns using the nesting site – and spotted chicks of royal terns, meaning more are expected to appear in the coming weeks.

Thomas said that while it’s too early to be sure, DWR partners at the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program are optimistic that 2022 could set a new record for the number of gull-billed pairs nesting in the newly provided habitat. This is important because gull-billed terns are on the list of species most needed for conservation in Virginia.

Fort Wool is located just off HRBT’s South Island – so keep your eyes peeled and you might spot some of this year’s shorebird visitors.

To learn more about the DWR relocation project, click here.

About Irene J. O'Donnell

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