inches; 20-28 cm, total length) in hand. When seen with other terns,
size alone will sepertate this species from other North Atlantic terns.
Hovering flight and size will distinguish this species from all other
to live for 24 years. Breeding season
adults have a black cap and a narrow yellow, black tipped bill. Legs
and feet yellow. In the non-breeding season, the bill is black and the
cap is less distinct and mottled with white. Sexes alike, males
slightly larger than females.
younger birds have dark bills and are light grey dorsally. Crown of cap
not well defined.
Scientific: Eurasian Little Tern or Sterna albifrons in
North America and Little Tern of Eurasia considered sister species.
Other closely related taxa in Indian, and South Pacific Oceans, and
Australia. Five subspecies of S.
antillarum described, but little basis
for separation and distinctions dubious. S. a. antillarium
subspecies breeding in region. Interior Least Tern, S. a. aathalassos,
from inland North America probably migrates through West Indies region.
areas, relatively open beaches.
with its closely related members of the same super species (Little
Tern, Fairy Tern and others), is cosmopolitan in distribution but
from the South Atlantic. A number of inland populations occur along
rivers in North America and in Europe. Absent from Bermuda.
the western North Atlantic it occurs as a breeding species along the
Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, West Indies, and southern Caribbean
coast of Central and northern South America. Wintering birds
along the South American coast south to northern Brazil.
Within West Indies breeds throughout Bahamas and on all island groups.
on small marine and estuarine fish, but also shrimp and occasionally
other invertebrates. Does not normally flock, but numbers of
individuals may focus foraging over patchy prey resources. Diurnal.
Searches for prey on the wing while flying or hovering from 1-10 meters
above the surface. Plunges to surface but does not submerge. Coastal,
feeds in littoral zone, seldom out of sight of land, few pelagic
relatively open beaches and cays kept free of vegetation by storms.
Breeds in colonies adjacent to the coast, species has high degree of
site fidelity. Sometimes adapts to nesting on gravel rooftops and other
predator free developed sites. Nesting begins between mid
mid May. Fairly synchronous nesting within colony. Nest simple scrape,
bits of shell and other objects occasionally added. Clutch normally 2-3
beige, brown splotched eggs. Average incubation 21-23 days. Young
vacate nest at age of about 2 days, first flight at about 20
Young disperse from colony within 3 weeks of fledging, but parents may
continue to feed young for up to 8 weeks.
terns of this super species’ populations are of considerable magnitude,
however these birds do not wander between hemispheres so the
information presented here is just for the North Atlantic. This
information is for the nominate subspecies Sterna antillarum antillarum.
Turks and Caicos
US Virgin Islands
St. Christopher and Nevis
Antigua and Barbuda
and middle United States: 7,623 pairs (Buckley and Buckley 1984); SE
United States: 13,500 pairs (Clapp and Buckley 1984); Bahamas and West
Indies: 1500-3000 pairs (Jackson 2000); Central America: ca 100 pairs
(van Halewyn and Norton 1984); islands off Venezuela: ca 1,000 pairs
(van Halewyn and Norton 1984).
Total population probably
exceeds the figures presented here (32,000+ pairs) in that protection
of nesting colonies in the United States has greatly increased the
number of viable breeding colonies in the last several decades.
However, Kushlan, et al. (2002) report at total of 47,000-51,500
breeding adults for the Americas. This figure is for individuals, not
pairs (thus 23-25.75 thousand pairs) and includes inland and west coast
races and populations so assessments from the 1980s may still best yet
reflect the actual overall western Atlantic population.
In our area
is not a species of conservation concern. Several of the inland US
populations are endangered. In West Indies, many local populations are
decline because of beachfront development and recreational use of
beaches. Species documented to have been extirpated from several former
beach-nesting habitat is also prized for development and recreation.
Habitat destruction for beach front resorts and housing and erosion
control measures directly destroy nesting habitat. Human presence
associated with development (along with pet associates) causes constant
disturbance of nesting birds in adjacent areas. Protection of colonies,
instructive signs, and seasonal fencing of colony sites would do much
to protect these terns. Educational information seasonally provided to
tourist staying in beach front resorts in the proximity of tern nesting
colonies would limit unintentional disturbance.
Rats and other
introduced predators also present problems. Laughing gull breeding
colonies in the vicinity of Least Tern colonies would be a negative
factor. Egging continues to be an issue in much of the region.
the behavior of the bird and its coastal affiliations would make it
highly unlikely that this species would be encountered by pelagic
fisheries operations, or to be of concern for other marine factors
negatively affecting many seabirds.
Management in predator
control and removal of dune vegetation at small and former colony sites
should be beneficial. Tern decoys have been used in the US to attract
nesting pairs and to facilitate recolonization of former sites.
studies of these terns in the West Indies are lacking.
and F. G. Buckley. 1984. Seabirds of the North and Middle Atlantic
coast of the United States: their status and conservation. Pp 101-133.
in J. P. Croxall, P. G. Evans and R. W. Schreiber (eds.). Status and
Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Tech. Publ., No. 2. 778 p.
R. B. and P. A.Buckley. 1984. Status and conservation of seabirds in
the southeastern United States, Pp. 135-155. in J. P. Croxall, P. G.
Evans and R. W. Schreiber (eds). Status and Conservation of the World's
Seabirds. ICBP Tech. Publ., No. 2. 778 p.
Jackson, J. A. 2000.
Distribution, population changes and threats to Least Terns in the
Caribbean and adjacent waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Pp.
109-117. in E. A. Schreiber and D. S. Lee (eds.) Status and
Conservation of West Indian Seabirds. Society of Caribbean Ornithology,
Special Publication Number 1.225 pp.
Kushlan, J. A. 2002.
Waterbird Conservation for the Americas: the North American Waterbird
Conservation Plan, Version 1. Waterbird Conservation for the Americas,
Washington, DC, USA., 78 pp.
Thompson, B. C., J. A. Jackson,
J. Burger, L. A. Hill, E. M. Kirsch, and J. L. Atwood. 1997.
Tern (Sterna antillarum). In The Birds of North America, No. 290 (A.
Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences,
Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington,
Van Halewyn, R. and R. Norton. 1984.The status and
conservation of seabirds in the Caribbean. Pp. 169-222. in J. P.
Croxall, P. G. Evans and R. W. Schreiber (eds). Status and Conservation
of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Tech. Publ., No. 2. 778 p.
Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas by Will
Mackin and David Lee is licensed
under a Creative
Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
License. Based on
work at www.wicbirds.net. Permissions
beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.wicbirds.net.
citation: Lee, D. S.,
W. A. Mackin. 2008. Least Tern. West
Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas
<http://www.wicbirds.net/lete.html>. Last Updated: _____.
Date accessed: ______.