New York Natural Heritage Program
Least Tern
Sternula antillarum Lesson, 1847

Habitat [-]
Least Terns nest on open sand of ocean beaches, sand flats, barrier islands and dredges. Nesting locations appear to be a tradeoff between avoiding predators that access colonies from the dunes and flooding from high tides (Burger and Gochfeld 1990). Although Least Terns select more barren and relatively homogenous habitats than other tern species, a small amount of vegetation may be useful for chicks to gain shelter once they hatch (Burger and Gochfeld 1990). Least Terns nest in colonies with other Least Terns often near Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus); perhaps capitalizing on the increased protection from disturbance by beach goers, pets and ORVs offered by posting and fencing for Piping Plovers.

Associated Ecological Communities [-]
  • Maritime beach
    A community with extremely sparse vegetation that occurs on unstable sand, gravel, or cobble ocean shores above mean high tide, where the shore is modified by storm waves and wind erosion.
  • Maritime dunes
    A community dominated by grasses and low shrubs that occurs on active and stabilized dunes along the Atlantic coast. The composition and structure of the vegetation is variable depending on stability of the dunes, amounts of sand deposition and erosion, and distance from the ocean.
  • Salt panne
    A shallow depression in a salt marsh where the marsh is poorly drained. Pannes occur in both low and high salt marshes. Pannes in low salt marshes usually lack vegetation, and the substrate is a soft, silty mud. Pannes in a high salt marsh are irregularly flooded by spring tides or flood tides, but the water does not drain into tidal creeks. After a panne has been flooded the standing water evaporates and the salinity of the soil water is raised well above the salinity of sea-water.

Associated Species [-]
  • Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)
  • Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)
  • Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)