Nest boxes prove key lifeline for Dublin Roseate terns

Off-coast-of-capital Rockbill island furnishes home for thriving terns under decades-long Birdwatch Ireland project

Thousands of Roseate terns have been saved by nest boxes on Rockabill island off the coast of Dublin, new research shows.

Birdwatch Ireland has provided a home for terns for the last 33 years through wooden nest boxes, with Ireland having the largest European population of Roseate terns.

The new study by researchers at Birdwatch Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin shows that the terns have more success raising their young and more eggs are hatched. It says nest boxes have hugely helped the birds, as they prefer to nest in sheltered spots under vegetation or beside rocky overhangs or in crevices where they are protected from predators.

Breeding sites

Birdwatch Ireland is a partner in the Roseate tern Life-funded project, together with partner organisations in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. The project aims to boost the ongoing effort to secure Roseate tern populations and provide suitable conditions for their expansion to former breeding sites.


Dr Darren O’Connell, co-author of the research article, said the analysis was important in measuring how successful any conservation actions had been and letting scientists know whether they were putting the effort into the right areas.

“It is fantastic to have found that over three decades of a hard manual slog by Birdwatch Ireland wardens – during which time they put out hundreds of nest boxes on the island each year – was more than worth it,” he said. “What seems like a simple conservation strategy is proving to be very effective by having a really positive impact on Roseate tern breeding.”

Brian Burke, another co-author of the study and scientific officer with Birdwatch Ireland, said Rockabill is an “amazing” place. “We’re extremely lucky to have such an internationally important seabird colony on the doorstep of our capital city,” he said. “Nothing beats the sight of the fledging terns all across the island in late summer. When you see them thriving, you know all the hard work has been worthwhile.”