Interior Least Tern

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Interior Least TernInterior Least Tern (Sterna antillarum athalassos)
Status: Endangered
Listed: May 28, 1985

For questions regarding the Interior Least Tern in Arkansas, please contact Rebecca Peak at rebecca_peak@fws.gov or 501-513-4475.

Species Facts:
The Interior least tern is the smallest member of the gull and tern family, at approximately 9 inches in length. They feed on small fish in shallow waters such as small lakes, reservoirs, and ponds near their nesting sites. Unlike gulls, they will dive into the water for small fish. This species nests in colonies. Nests are small, bowl-shaped depressions scratched into the sand or gravel, and a typical clutch contains 2 to 3 eggs laid directly onto the substrate. Egg-laying begins by late May and generally lasts 20-25 days. Departure from colonies by both adults and fledglings varies but is usually complete by early September. This subspecies winters in Central and South America.

Habitat Summary:
In Arkansas, this small bird inhabits the sandbars of the Arkansas, Mississippi, and Red Rivers during the summer months while they nest and raise their young. The riverine nesting areas are sparsely vegetated sand and gravel bars within a wide unobstructed river channel, or salt flats along lake shorelines. Nesting locations are usually at higher elevations and away from the water’s edge. Many sandbars chosen for nesting are over 2 miles long and ½ mile wide. Least terns also nest on artificial habitats such as sand and gravel pits, dredge inlands, dike fields along the Mississippi River, ash disposal areas of power plants, along the shores of reservoirs, and gravel roof tops.

Interior least terns feed on small fish found in rivers, streams, ponds, and ditches near nesting sites.

Why is it endangered?
The interior least tern is endangered due to destruction, alteration, and curtailment of nesting habitat. Channelization, irrigation, and the construction of reservoirs and pools have contributed to the elimination of much of the tern’s sandbar nesting habitat in the Arkansas and Red River systems.

View the Interior Least Tern Recovery Plan.

Range in Arkansas:
Interior Least Tern Range Map

Arkansas Field Office
110 S. Amity Road
Suite 300
Conway, AR 72032

501/513 4470 (v)
501/513 4480 (f)

Last Updated: December 30, 2015

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