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Least Tern

Posted on Jul 22, 2016

This summer has been a “late” one for some of our waterbirds with species like the Piping Plover still nesting into July, a full three months after some of their counterparts had started a new family. Our work in the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds focuses primarily on four species – those Piping Plovers, the American Oystercatcher, plus Common and Least Terns. Both of the terns arrive back in Connecticut right around May 1 each spring. They check out the menus, get the lay of the land and see what has changed over the beach-shaping winter months, push through the last of the cool weather and start nesting mostly in June. They also dragged a little bit this year with nests and hatchlings still being found here in mid-July. I took these photos while out on a survey mission with the Bridgeport WildLife Guards last week.

Least Tern Sternula antillarum-8131

The Least Tern has had a difficult few years in the state as they seem to have a very difficult time establishing cohesive colonies in sufficient numbers to facilitate success. Too few pairs simply means they are way too vulnerable to various disturbance from people and predation from a multitude of sources – gulls, crows, herons, fox, raccoon, coyote, feral cat – even fisher!

Least Tern Sternula antillarum-8125

A few to several dozen pairs here or there are the best we can hope for at the moment, and right now we have that many going on some of our beaches. Another consideration is the health of the Long Island Sound as tern colonies having a sudden crash or shift in prey fish populations can spell doom almost overnight, a situation we somewhat believed led to the complete downfall of hundreds of pairs at certain locations in the last decade. If adults have to work too hard to find food for themselves they will be off the nest for too long and the eggs will perish along with any young that will end up starving. You have to admire such a species for surviving at all.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator