HAMPTON, Va. - Fort Wool, a decommissioned Civil War-era military installation near the City of Hampton, isn't just a historical site. It's also where thousands of seabirds, including five state-threatened species, come to nest every year after the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources relocated their habitat off of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel's South Island.
The relocation happened in 2020, with the fort's former parade grounds being converted from a lawn to a sand flat to entice birds to nest. Barges were also anchored off of Fort Wool to provide more places for birds to nest.
Nearly 20,000 birds used the habitat after its relocation, with as many as 6,000 chicks hatching during the 2020 nesting season.
This year, DWR wildlife biologist Meagan Thomas said she's seen royal terns, sandwich terns, black skimmers, common terns and gull-billed terns using the nesting site — and has spotted royal tern chicks, which means more should appear in the coming weeks.
Thomas said though it's too early to be sure, the DWR's partners at the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program are optimistic that 2022 may set a new record for the number of gull-billed pairs nesting on the newly provided habitat. This is significant as gull-billed terns are on Virginia's Species of Greatest Conservation Need list.
Fort Wool is located directly off of the HRBT's South Island — so keep your eyes open and you might spot some of this year's shorebird visitors.