Least Tern - Sterna antillarum - Endangered
The least tern is a swallow-like bird, the smallest of the gull and tern family. They are approximately 9 inches in length. The least tern has a forked tail and narrow pointed wings. Its body is a pale gray with a white belly. The head of the least tern is black with a white forehead and yellow bill.
From Chick to Tern: The nests of the least tern are bowl-shaped depressions about 4 inches across. The least tern lays two to four eggs in the sand beginning mid-May. Both parents incubate and feed the young until they are able to fly. The adult birds and young leave the sandbar by late August.
What's for Dinner?: Least terns catch small fish by diving into the water.
From Here to There: The least tern nests and raises their young on the sandbars along the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. Once the young are able to fly, the birds migrate south to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The parents return to the same sandbar year after year to nest.
Natural Habitat: In North Dakota the least tern uses sparsely vegetated sandbars along the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.
- Least terns often share river sandbars with another endangered species, the piping plover.
- Least terns nest in colonies where the nests of other least terns are just a few feet apart.
- There are approximately 100 breeding pairs of North Dakota.
Reasons for Population Decline: The loss of habitat from dam building and channelization on the major rivers has lead to the decline of the least tern population.
Road to Recovery: Certain sandbars used by the birds are posted with signs that close these areas to human use during the nesting season. There are approximately 100 breeding pairs of North Dakota.