Least Tern

Monitoring and Protecting an Endangered Migratory Bird in Central Oklahoma

Interior Least Terns (Sternulla antillarum athalassos) were added to the federal list of endangered species in 1985 due to the population decline in the Great Plains and Mississippi Valley caused primarily by the loss of breeding habitat in this region.

Least Terns nest on the ground in bare sand, gravel, or shells, on dry mudflats, on salt plains, and in sand and gravel pits. The natural dynamics of prairie rivers maintain the sandbars that terns prefer for nesting. The water fluctuations that come with flooding and dry periods create bare sand bars, which terns find attractive for nesting.

Private landowners along the Canadian River in central Oklahoma safeguard colonies of Interior Least Terns on their property. They work with the Oklahoma Natural Areas Registry to voluntarily protect terns by allowing fencing of nesting colonies, discouraging human disturbance, restoring breeding and foraging habitat, and educating people who use the river.