Understanding how birds respond to the activities of people is an important component of conserving wildlife. We measured responses of nesting black skimmers (Rynchops niger) to an approaching boat in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, USA, by examining distance to first respond, distance to flush, and time to return to the colony. Our objective was to determine if response distances of skimmers changed as a function of year, reproductive stage, direction of approach (direct or tangential), or number of birds nesting in the colony. Generally, reproductive stage had the greatest effect on all responses, followed by direction of approach, number of adults present at the colony, number of nests, and year, which also explained variation in behavioral responses. The distance at which skimmers first flew when a boat approached decreased from the pre–egg-laying period to hatching, and then increased slightly later in the season. Time (x ¯ ± SE) for skimmers to return to the nesting colony varied seasonally, with birds taking longer to return during the pre-egg period (9.5 ± 0.6 min) than during hatching (0.7 ± 0.1 min). The decision process for determining set-back distances to protect nesting skimmers should involve selecting 1) behavioral response of highest concern, 2) reproductive stage of highest concern, and 3) an appropriate level of response at which to establish the buffer area. We recommend that managers use a set-back distance of ≥118 m from the perimeter of the colony for black skimmers, which is the 95% percentile of the distance that skimmers first flew in response to approaching boats. Managers can use these data to set buffer distances for skimmers and other colonial birds.
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Vol. 74 • No. 1