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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Least Tern -- Sterna antillarum

RANGE: Breeds along the Pacific Coast from central California south to southern Baja California, inland along the Colorado, Red, Missouri, and Mississippi River systems from southern South Dakota, western Iowa, southwestern Missouri, northwestern Indiana, central Louisiana, northeastern Texas, central Oklahoma, western Kansas, and central New Mexico, and along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida and west to Texas. Winters along the Pacific Coast from Baja California and along the Gulf Coast to South America.

STATUS: Threatened in the Great Plains; endangered along California Coast; stable along Atlantic Coast, but is listed on New Jersey and Maine's threatened and endangered lists.

HABITAT: Inhabits river sandbars, inland islands, broad areas of sand or gravel beaches, and newly cleared land along the coast. Frequents salt plains in Oklahoma.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Open, sandy coastal beaches, and river sandbars for nesting.

NEST: Nests solitarily or in scattered colonies. Nests in scrapes (with little or no lining) in sand or gravel (gravel or pebble substrates are preferred) above ordinary tides. Shares habitat with piping plover in the Great Plains.

FOOD: Skims the surface of the water or hovers and dives for food, sometimes spears fish with closed bill. Eats sand eels, shrimp, and small fish.

REFERENCES: Bent 1921, Tompkins 1959, Johnsgard 1979, Terres 1980.

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