Conserve Wildlife Blog

Beachnester Buzz: Least Tern Love

June 28th, 2016


by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Least tern photo by Northside Jim.

Least tern photo by Northside Jim.

Piping plovers tend to garner most of our attention on the beach nesting bird project because they are so critically endangered. American oystercatchers and black skimmers are visually striking and very charismatic, so they are popular with the public, as well. That sometimes leaves the least tern as the “forgotten stepchild” of our beachnesters.


Their protective behavior of dive-bombing and even pooping on beachgoers who get too close to their nests or young doesn’t help their reputation. Yet, they are a fascinating species to watch and their chicks rank high on the cute scale.


Because they are a colonial species, and the colonies often take up large areas of the beach, they are a special challenge to manage and protect. But they do need protection – they are listed as endangered in New Jersey. Over the past decade, their population has remained low but stable. On one hand that is good, it means they aren’t declining further, but it also means they aren’t recovering either.


This week, we completed the latest of our bi-monthly surveys with a total of about 1200 individuals counted. This is below our peak a little earlier in the month, but in line with our typical statewide population. To date, we have recorded 24 active colonies along the coast from Sandy Hook to Cape May this year. That is within our average annual range of 20-25, although several of those colonies have already failed due to intense predator pressure.


It is too early to say whether this will be a good or bad year for least terns. We are in the peak period for chicks, so the next two weeks or so will determine if we successfully produce enough young to the fledgling stage. In the meantime, now is the time to get out to see these cuties, but remember to view them from a safe distance and share the shore with all our beach nesting birds.


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Todd Pover is the Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

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