The wings are mostly pale gray, but with conspicuous black markings on their outermost primaries. In winter found along tropical coasts, sometimes well out to sea. It is a small tern, 22–24 cm (8.7–9.4 in) long, with a wingspan of 50 cm (20 in), and weighing 39–52 g (1.4–1.8 oz). One brood per year, sometimes two in south. Late-season nesting may be renests or the result of late arrivals. Bald Eagle. Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures. Forages by flying over water, hovering, and plunging to catch prey just below water's surface. The least tern (Sternula antillarum) is a species of tern that breeds in North America and locally in northern South America. For the second time in three years, Mississippi’s Big Sunflower River has been recognized as one of the nation’s most endangered rivers. The population of the Least Tern is estimated at around 70,000 individual birds. Photo: Anja Trepper/Audubon Photography Awards. The endangered Interior Least Tern (Sterna antillarum athalassos) breeds inland along the Missouri, Mississippi, Colorado, Arkansas, Red, and Rio Grande River systems. Along coast generally where sand beaches close to extensive shallow waters for feeding.  Insects are known to be eaten during El Niño events. Courtship typically takes place removed from the nesting colony site, usually on an exposed tidal flat or beach. Our smallest tern.  It has occurred as a vagrant to Europe, with one record in Great Britain. Least tern (Sterna antillarum) - Interior population. It differs from the little tern mainly in that its rump and tail are gray, not white, and it has a different, more squeaking call; from the yellow-billed tern in being paler gray above and having a black tip to the bill; and from the Peruvian tern in being paler gray above and white (not pale gray) below and having a shorter black tip to the bill. Fish, crustaceans, insects. We protect birds and the places they need. Overwhelmed and Understaffed, Our National Wildlife Refuges Need Help. It flies over water with fast, jerky wingbeats and a distinctive hunchback appearance, with the bill pointing slightly downward. Age at first flight about 19-20 days; young may remain with parents another 2-3 months. One brood per year, sometimes two in south. A least tern attacking a much larger black skimmer near Drum Inlet in North Carolina, United States. The birds breed in many areas of the United States and winter mainly along the coast of northern South America, including the coasts of Brazil to Colombia. The California Least Tern (Sterna antillarum browni), federally listed as endangered since 1970, breeds along the Pacific coast from central California to southern Baja California. On ground, displays include courtship feeding. The head is white, with a black cap and line through the eye to the base of the bill, and a small white forehead patch above the bill; in winter, the white forehead is more extensive, with a smaller and less sharply defined black cap. Mating pair at Sunset Beach, North Carolina, The mating sequence of a pair of least terns processed into one image. In some colonies in southern California, Spanish roof tiles are placed in colonies so chicks can hide there. Threats include egg and fledgling predators, high tides and recreational use of nesting beaches. Adults do not require cover, so that they commonly roost and nest on the open ground. Both parents feed young. Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from Other close relatives include the yellow-billed tern and Peruvian tern, both from South America. Often seen flying low over the water, with quick deep …  Depredation by domestic cats has been observed in at least one colony. Adults are known to wet themselves and shake off water over the eggs when arriving at the nest. Both parents feed young. After formation of the new families, groupings of birds may appear at lacustrine settings in proximity to the coast. Habitat. Threats include egg and fledgling predators, high tides and recreational use of nesting beaches. On inland rivers, fluctuating water levels (from releases from major dams) often flood out nesting sites on sandbars. Diet varies with season and location; mostly small fish, crustaceans, and insects, also some small mollusks and marine worms. National Audubon Society The smallest of American terns, the Least Tern is found nesting on sandy beaches along the southern coasts of the United States and up the major river systems far into the interior of the continent. The nest density may be as low as several per acre, but in San Diego County, densities of 200 nests per acre have been observed. This least tern is on the nest. , 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22694673A93462098.en, "Subspecific Status and Population Genetic Structure of Least Terns (Sternula antillarum) Inferred by Mitochondrial DNA Control-Region Sequences and Microsatellite DNA", California Least Tern Breeding Survey 2009 Season, 10.1675/1524-4695(2006)29[501:RSBLTI]2.0.CO;2, Tern Colony: an individual-based model of Least Tern reproduction, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Least_tern&oldid=970892885, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, An unknown subspecies was found in 2012 nesting on the Big Island of Hawaii, This page was last edited on 3 August 2020, at 00:44. The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation.  In southern California, least terns feed in bays and lagoons, near shore, and more than 24 km (15 mi) from shore in the open ocean. There are two eggs which can be seen if one looks closely. (St. Augustine, Florida). In courtship, male (carrying fish in bill) flies upward, followed by female, then both glide down. Tiny, noticeably smaller than other terns, with quick flicking wingbeats. In very hot weather, adult may dip into water and wet belly feathers to cool eggs. Adults in southern California eat kelpfish (most likely giant kelpfish, Heterostichus rostratus). Illustration © David Allen Sibley. While numbers have gradually increased with its protected status, it is still vulnerable to predators, natural disasters or further disturbance by humans. Or take action immediately with one of our current campaigns below: The Audubon Bird Guide is a free and complete field guide to more than 800 species of North American birds, right in your pocket. Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. Incubation period 20-25 days. They winter along coastal areas of Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands, but not a lot is known about their wintering areas. Visit your local Audubon center, join a chapter, or help save birds with your state program.  Both female and male incubate the eggs for a period of about three weeks, and both parents tend the semiprecocial young. It is migratory, wintering in Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America. Leaves North America and northern Mexico entirely in winter, moving to tropical waters as far south as Brazil. The most common prey recently for both chicks and adults are silversides smelt (Atherinops spp.) A least tern lying just below the surface of the sand is probably on its nest.  Elsewhere, they feed in proximity to lagoons or bay mouths. Help power unparalleled conservation work for birds across the Americas, Stay informed on important news about birds and their habitats, Receive reduced or free admission across our network of centers and sanctuaries, Access a free guide of more than 800 species of North American birds, Discover the impacts of climate change on birds and their habitats, Learn more about the birds you love through audio clips, stunning photography, and in-depth text. Let us send you the latest in bird and conservation news. In any case, the bulk of the population has left the breeding grounds by the end of August. It’s the least you can do.  In the San Francisco Bay region, breeding typically takes place on abandoned salt flats. Spread the word. Breeding adults have yellow bill, stumpy yellow feet, white forehead, and black cap. Are the Trump Administration's Environmental Rollbacks Built to Last? 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