Great Gull Island History


    By 1949 development on Long Island and along the Connecticut shore had radically reduced locations where terns could nest. For this reason, when the U.S. government put Great Gull Island up for sale, Richard Pough, Chairman of the Conservation Department at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), worked to acquire it. He knew terns had nested there in the past and might recolonize the island. The museum took title to the island in 1949 and assigned the Linnaean Society of New York, a group composed of birders, naturalists and ornithologists, the task of returning the island to a habitat that might attract terns. Members of the Society visited the island immediately. They took down buildings, imported sand for certain areas and then left the island and waited, hoping the terns would come back.

    In 1955 Irwin Alperin, a Linnaean Society member, flew over Great Gull Island and spotted 25 pairs of Common Terns nesting at the far eastern end of the island. Roseate Terns began nesting on the island soon after and numbers of both species increased until they reached their current population sizes.

    In 1963 Catherine Pessino, in the Department of Education at AMNH, called Helen Hays and asked if she would like to visit Great Gull Island. No one had been on the island since the early 1950’s and several of the people who had worked to prepare the island for the terns wanted to see how many terns were nesting. Hays accepted enthusiastically. When she saw the island she thought it looked ideal for a group to work there and follow the populations of the two tern species. By 1969 there were enough recruits willing to stay on the island and they began monitoring the two species, a project which continues today.