LONGVIEW — The Corps of Engineers will try hazing seabirds at the mouth of the Columbia River in an attempt to reduce the size of a “super colony” that has been taking about one-fifth of the young salmon before they reach the ocean.
Beginning in March, biologists and students from Oregon State University will try to scare and drive off some of the cormorants before they can nest on East Sand Island, The Daily News reported.
The goal is to force as many as 60 percent of the birds to nest elsewhere and give the young salmon a better chance of surviving.
Cormorants have been flocking to the island in recent years, making it one of the largest nesting colonies in the West with about 13,000 pairs.
“It’s kind of a super colony — it’s huge,” said Diana Fredlund, a spokeswoman for the corps’ Portland District. “The big draw is lunch,” she added, “When the buffet’s open, they’re gonna eat!”
The island’s easy access to ocean-bound salmon allowed them to pluck an estimated 23 million young salmon out of the water last year, about one-fifth of the total number in the river.
“It’s such a huge hit. We’ve had all these great minds working together to try and give these endangered fish some help, and now the cormorants are enjoying the fruits of our labors,” Fredlund said.
To help reduce the bird population, the corps plans to construct a fence to isolate a 4-acre section of East Sand Island. After installing privacy blinds to minimize the disturbance to birds on the other side, biologists from Oregon State University will haze or annoy the birds, hoping to drive some of them elsewhere.
“We have energetic OSU students who will be doing this. When (cormorants) exhibit this nesting behavior, the students will run up and scare them off,” Fredlund said.
Fencing and hazing were successfully tested on a small scale last year. The new six-month project is intended to determine whether it could be an effective method of dispersing larger cormorant populations.
The hazing will last until June, then biologists will monitor the cormorants until September.