California Least Tern


The California Least Tern (Sternula antillarum browni), or Charran mínimo in Spanish, forages for small fish in estuaries and the ocean. A ground-nesting bird, it makes its nest by scraping a depression in the sand. The beaches where the Least Tern nests have become recreation areas for San Diego residents, leaving little habitat where this bird can nest undisturbed. Due to urbanization of its natural habitat, the California Least Tern was one of the first animals placed on the endangered species list in 1970.

Since then their numbers have increased, but predators learn the locations of the few remaining colonies. In spite of intensive management, Least Terns still struggle to raise enough young to sustain the population.

One unique adaption of the California Least Tern is that the color of its eggs and chicks tend to match the speckled pattern of the sand it nests in. This camouflage hides the eggs and chicks from predators.

To learn more about the California Least Tern, visit the online San Diego County Bird Atlas or check out the book from your local library.

PHOTO CREDIT: R. Baak, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service