California Least Tern History (CLTE)
The California Least Tern (CLTE) has been listed as an endangered species since 1970. They are migratory birds found along the coast from Baja California to Washington. They nest at beaches directly on the sand during the warmer time of the year. Unfortunately, populations have declined drastically. In particular, the Venice Beach Least Tern Colony has seen a drop in CLTE nest and fledglings. This colony is a safe enclosure that is closed to the public and is heavily monitored by volunteers, biologist, and Los Angeles Audubon staff.
The primary reason CLTE are having a hard time increasing population numbers are because of predators. Crows are a huge obstacle for them because they eat their eggs when they begin nesting. I’m also doing crow surveys where I document the number of crows I see in the colony as well as their behavior. We are especially interested in banded crows: crows with numbers on their legs. The reason is because we can document which crows are returning and if they are after the CLTE eggs. Though it is easy to point fingers at the crow as the bad guy let’s not forget why crows are even there in the first place. Crows are scavenger birds which means they feed on dead things and scraps of food they can get their beaks on. Beach goers leave food at the beach all the time attracting these scavengers along with racoons. If our beaches were cleaner and free from trash these predators would not be as present.
In the beginning of the survey period in April, I didn’t see any CLTE. Weeks went by with no sight of them and I was starting to lose hope. May came along and still no signs of them arriving or using Venice as a nesting area. Mid May I was surprised to hear the Terns call. I saw three white sharp figures flying in the cloudy sky. I can see one of the Terns holding a fish in its mouth, their courtship display. Weeks later in June I was presented with the most exciting sight- sixteen CLTE chasing a crow out of the colony! Now, each survey I do I see the same sixteen Terns and now they’re actually landing in the colony. They sit on the sand and the male comes around to flaunt his fish at the female trying to mate with her. Now, it’s the waiting game. We are patiently waiting to see our first nest, and hopefully our first fledgling!