Least Tern
Least Tern Photo: Jeffrey Bernier/Audubon Photography Awards

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Thursday, June 20, 2019)— Interior Least Terns (Sterna antillarum) are nesting on a gravel lot at the Little Rock Port Authority. This endangered bird species typically nests on barren to sparsely vegetated sandbars in rivers, but will also nest on gravel rooftops. Record flooding of the Arkansas River submerged sandbars, forcing these birds to move to the Port Authority instead. About 35 birds are in this colony, according to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).

“I’m glad these birds found our port in the storm, so to speak,” said Bryan Day, Executive Director of the Little Rock Port Authority. “We are committed to helping protect these birds from human disturbance.” Because terns nest on the ground, they are vulnerable to vehicle and foot traffic, so the Port Authority has locked the entryway to the colony. FWS installed signs to increase public awareness that terns are protected by federal and state laws and disturbing or harming them could result in penalties and fines. Predators such a coyotes and raccoons are still a threat. According to Dr. Dan Scheiman, Bird Conservation Director for Audubon Arkansas, not only are mammalian predators a concern on sandbars, but also “People are a problem,” says Dr. Scheiman. He urges boaters to stay off sandbars where signs about nesting terns have been posted. “Dams, reservoirs, and other changes to river systems have eliminated a lot of nesting habitat. Let’s give them space to nest so the species has a chance to recover. I commend the Port Authority for voluntarily taking steps to protect this vulnerable species nesting on their property.”

A Little Rock birder reported the colony at the Port Authority to FWS on June 1. Then FWS conducted a site visit and counted approximately 35 adults, some of which appeared to be incubating eggs. On a subsequent visit, FWS and Arkansas Tech researchers found canine and vehicle tracks in the gravel lot.  However, in a nearby lot they counted about the same number of adults and six nests with eggs that were 2-3 days old. Those disturbances plus additional flooding when the Arkansas River peaked apparently caused the colony to relocate to the nearby gravel lot where the terns started another nesting attempt. Arkansas Tech will continue with weekly monitoring. As flood waters recede, it is possible terns that have not been successful nesting in these alternative areas may attempt to nest on sandbars later this season.

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For media inquiries contact Dr. Dan Scheiman at 501.244.2229, dscheiman@audubon.org.

Rebecca Peak, Senior Endangered Species Biologist, FWS at 501-513-4475, rebecca_peak@fws.gov

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