Success Stories: Endangered Species: Monitoring and Protecting a California Least Tern Breeding Colony

Meredith Elliot and Mark Rauzon

Least Tern incubating eggs

Least Tern incubating eggs

Tern Watch is a volunteer predator observation program at Alameda Point. The intention of Tern Watch is to give a broader picture of predator presence during the least tern breeding season, allowing USFWS to conduct proactive predator management. Annually, volunteers are recruited and trained to observe the tern colony from a vehicle outside the colony fence line, for three hours at a time. Volunteers record predator and Least Tern activi- ties during daytime hours, seven days a week.

Not only are the Tern Watch data useful for understanding the local predators at the Least Tern colony, but the volunteers themselves act as predator deterrents. The physical presence of a human in their vehicle close to the Least Tern colony appears to deter many avian predators from entering the nesting area, thus giving more protection to the terns. The Tern Watch volunteers also record least tern activities and their responses to predator presence. While conducting a tern watch, each volunteer is able to enjoy the behaviors and nature of the Least Terns in their breeding habitat, a rare sight to see.

In 2010, the presence and vigilance of volunteers at the Least Tern colony helped thwart several hunting attempts made by juvenile Peregrine Falcons. The quick response time by volunteers alerting the biologists of predators enabled them to chase off marauding predators in time.