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LIVING SANIBEL: Least tern struggles with habitat loss

By Staff | May 20, 2010

Least Tern (Sterna antillarum) Other names: sea swallow, pigeon de la mer,

little tern / Status: Fla.=threatened, IUCN=LC / Life span: to 24 years /

Length: 8.3-9.1 in. (21-23 cm) / Wingspan: 18.9-20.9 in. (48-53 cm) /

Weight: 1.1-1.6 oz (30-45 g) / Nests: in Florida in the summer months,

including Sanibel and Captiva; winters in Colombia and Venezuela / Found:

only during summer in gulf beach, interior wetlands, mangrove zone, and the

Sanibel Causeway.

True to its nickname sea swallow, this is the smallest tern in the Western

Hemisphere. Weighing less than a robin, this tiny tern feeds on small fish,

crustaceans, and sand eels. Its cap is similar to other terns, but its

diminutive size and black-tipped yellow bill are the best methods of

identifying this bird.

Like several other summer species, the least tern has made Florida its

northern nesting site, although several small populations nest as far north

as Massachusetts. Once hunted for its plumes, the least tern is still

considered threatened in much of its range, and its population is being

closely monitored. There is also a West Coast population that summers in

California and winters deep into Mexico.