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2020 California Least Terns Update

Since 1970, San Diego International Airport (SAN) has provided a protected habitat for the California Least Tern, a migrating seabird who, as a full-grown adult, only weighs 1.6 ounces. To the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority and the airport’s many contractors and tenants, as well as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Port of San Diego, and the U.S. Navy, these small birds are a big deal due to the fact that they are a federally listed endangered seabird species.

The California Least Terns find nesting opportunities along the southeastern property line of the airport during the nesting months of April through September. The least terns nest on the ground of beaches and natural or artificial open areas near estuaries, bays, or harbors where small fish are abundant. At the airport, least terns have nested on the sand and gravel in four oval areas between the runway and the airplane taxiways. There are several other nesting sites around San Diego Bay because the area provides the birds with easy access to foraging opportunities.

The Airport Authority works diligently to protect CLT nesting habitat around the airport facilities and the surrounding community. We have created a California Least Tern Protection Program with guidelines for all airport, tenant, and contractor activities during the nesting season. The guidelines include the following requirements:

  • Prohibiting any activities within the least tern ovals themselves.
  • Reducing vehicle speed near the least tern ovals to 15 mph.
  • Minimizing potential construction project impacts by limiting construction activity within 800 feet of the nesting ovals, focusing lights away from the least tern ovals during night-time activities, and lowering any equipment having a height of 25 feet or greater at the close of each construction day.
  • Properly disposing of trash and keeping outdoor trash dumpsters covered so as not to attract any least tern predators.

This year, the California Least Terns nesting season at SAN ended August 18th when the last of the little families began migrating south. There was a total of six nests at SAN, which is a historically low number. However, despite the low nest numbers, the fledgling per pair ratio at SAN continues to be among the highest in the state and our critical nesting site is considered to be one of the most productive least tern nesting sites in Southern California. To learn more about SAN’s commitment to California Least Terns, please click here.


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