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It’s Nesting Season for the California Least Terns

Friday, May 21, 2021

Here at SAN, we think it’s pretty special that the California Least Tern, an endangered migratory seabird, nest here every year. The California Least Tern is listed under both the federal and California State Endangered Species Act since 1972. They prefer to nest in small, scattered clusters right on sandy beaches and salt flats where small fish in the water can be easily accessed. So, it’s not surprising that given our proximity to San Diego Bay, they choose to nest in an area where there is wide open space and a sandy ground surface.

The California Least Terns have been nesting at SAN for more than 40 years and because of that, the airport maintains, monitors, and protects 20 acres of land on the southeast end of the runway dedicated to their nesting habitat. As outlined in our California Least Tern Protection Program, during nesting season vehicles driving on the service road near the Least Tern ovals must reduce their speed to 15 MPH and construction projects must focus lights away from the least turn ovals at night and lower equipment with a height of 25 feet or greater at the close of each construction day. We take extra care to properly dispose of trash and keep outdoor trash dumpsters covered so least tern predators aren’t attracted to the area. To prepare the nesting area, the airport prepares the nesting site by removing vegetation and providing repairs to the chick fence which protects little chicks from running into the service roads.

On Monday, May 17 the first nest was observed in Oval 03-S. There also have been quite a few birds surveying the area for their nest selection, so we anticipate more soon. Their nesting season runs until September. The Airport Authority continues to work together with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Zoological Society of San Diego, and the Port of San Diego to protect the endangered least terns as well as other threatened birds, plants, and their habitats.