This summer, for the first time in recorded history, the Least Terns failed to return to Ocean City.
Other birds have begun to vanish from this heavily developed summer resort as well.
"The marshes have disappeared and there are very few undisturded beaches," said Woody Martin of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The birds "tried hard, but they've just givin up."
The Least Tern, a seagull-like mingratory bird that prefers to nest in quiet secluded beaches and undisturbed marshland, failed to return in May to its favorite Maryland nesting spot on the shores of Montego Bay here.
Disruptions of the Least Terns nesting hibitat on shorelines along the East Coast have gotten so bad that the National Audubon Society recently placed the bird, also known as the Little Tern, on its blue list of rare species.
By contrast, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service feported that in 1948 they found 285 pairs of the 9-inch, black and white birds building nests in Ocean City's sand and insulating them with shells.
But the numbers declined throughout the 1960s in inverse proportion to Ocean City and Eastern Shore development.
In the last 10 years a large trailer park, including over 1,100 trailers, and a series of shopping centers have sprouted up along Montego Bay. Last year new construction in Ocean City totaled more than $18 million. This year that figure is expected to go up by another $2 million.
As high-rise condominiums rose along the ocean, and tourism grew rapidly in this narrow 15-mile long city, the birds simply flew off to more secluded areas.
Also disappearing with the coming of the tourist hoardes are the Common Tern and the Black Skimmer, a fish-eating bird with a long scissorlike bill.
There are only about 150 nesting pairs of Black Skimmers left. In 1950 there were more than 300. The Black Skimmers and both tern species are appearing more and more on secluded Assateague Island beaches and Chesapeake Bay area marshes and spoil islands.
"Prior to 1916 the birds were unprotected from egg and plumage hunters," the Wildlife Service's Martin said. "Today they are unprotected from kids on minibikes."
For the first time the Wildlife service set up a nesting refuge this year for the Least Tern on the northern edge of Assateague Island. The refuge is surrounded by an electric fence that wards off predators such as foxes, dogs and minibikes.
According to Mike Irwin of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the refuge has been successful in attracting the terns. There are now more than 100 nesting paris there, he said.
One bird species has been able to coexist peacefully with man and all of the technological development here. The Laughing Seagull is still as much a part of Ocean City life as the boardwalk and the surf.
"There are a good 2,200 pairs of them," Irwin said. "They can pretty well adapt to anything." CAPTION: Picture 1, Intensive development in Ocean City, Md., has caused the Least Tern and other bird species to avoid the area. By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post; Picture 2, The Least Tern, a 9-inch migratory bird, has stopped summering in Ocean City. By Allen D. Cruickshank -- National Society