Fewer Least Terns Nest at L.A.’s Port


It’s not for a lack of trying, but officials at L.A.’s ports have spent more than $350,000 to make all the right moves for a breeding colony of endangered California least terns – but the birds aren’t picking up the re-population groove.

Since January, officials have gussied up the tern’s territory, a windswept spit of sandy beach next to a large container terminal at the port. They have imported sand, installed predator controls, added chick fences for newbies, but still the bird numbers are declining. The birds have been on the endangered list for 40 years.

According to the LA Times:

…On a recent weekday, port biologist Kathleen Keane surveyed the 15-acre site through binoculars and shook her head in disappointment. “We have five least tern nests so far this year, the lowest number ever recorded here,” she said. “The situation shows that it’s not always ‘build it and they will come.’ “

It was the sixth consecutive year of declines in nests at Pier 400, following seven years of increases that ended in 2005, when there were about 1,332 nests. Keane attributed the lower numbers to a dearth of small prey fish such as anchovies in near-shore waters. The cause of the decline in prey fish, however, remains unknown.

Up and down the California coast, least terns are struggling to survive. Birds, in search of food, often leave their eggs unguarded – and those youngsters become dinner for crows, peregrine falcons and other predator seabirds.

The situation in Los Angeles is particularly troubling because officials were hoping the strategies they were putting into place would boost the least tern’s chances.  At one time, the birds flourished on California beaches, but now only an estimated 7,000 pairs are found in a few designated areas, locations that can encourage ‘super-dense colonies’ which, as it turns out, attracts even more predators.