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Double-crested cormorants like this one have taken over Charlottetown's old Hillsborough Bridge piers. ((Courtesy Parks Canada) )

Wildlife officials say little can be done about the hundreds of cormorants that have taken over the old Hillsborough Bridge piers this summer.

The Charlottetown piers were home to a colony of terns, but the foul-smelling black double-crested cormorants have recently staked their claim.

"They're not a pretty bird. They're almost a pre-historic-looking bird," said Gerald MacDougall, the P.E.I. Environment Ministry's fish and wildlife section manager.

This is the first summer the colony has roosted permanently on the old piers.

Until now, the common tern —  a smaller bird with smaller droppings — nested here.

In previous years, wildlife officials had tried to protect the terns by putting up wire fencing on the piers to keep out the cormorants. But the piers are slowly crumbling, making it unsafe to put up fences.

As well, there are fewer terns here and around the world, MacDougall said.

"If the terns were here, more than likely they would have prevented the cormorants from nesting here. They're very aggressive and they nest earlier than the cormorants," MacDougall said. "So, when the terns weren't here, the cormorants moved in, and seemed to have taken over."

A few years ago, officials allowed hunters to shoot cormorants on the Island.

But MacDougall said people kept shooting the wrong kind.

"People had trouble telling the difference between a double-crested cormorant and a great cormorant and our great cormorant took a huge hit the years that they had a hunting season on them," said MacDougall.

Meanwhile, Bruce Smith, president of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation, is disappointed the measures to protect the terns on the bridge piers haven't worked.

The organization has set up a few fenced rafts further up the river to help the terns, but Smith said more rafts might have to be floated.