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Pacific Coast Caspian Terns: Dynamics of an expanding population

January 1, 1983

Nesting distribution, age-related seasonal movements, survivorship, and mechanisms of population expansion in Pacific Coast Caspian Terns (Sterna caspia) were examined primarily through analysis of 412 recoveries of birds banded as juveniles between 1935 and 1980. Since the beginning of this century, the population has shifted from nesting in numerous small colonies associated with freshwater marshes in interior California and southern Oregon to nesting primarily in large colonies on human-created habitats along the coast. Colonies at Grays Harbor, Washington and San Francisco and San Diego bays, California account for 77% of the current Pacific Coast population (6,000 pairs), which has breeding and wintering areas separate from those of populations east of the continental divide. There also appears to be some segregation on the wintering grounds by birds from the three major colonies within the Pacific population. Age-related seasonal movements in the Pacific population are characterized by (1) a brief period of northward dispersal by newly fledged birds before migrating to the wintering grounds, (2) a residency on the wintering grounds through their second winter, (3) a return to the breeding grounds the third summer, when most birds are thought to prospect breeding sites and some may breed, and (4) attainment of adulthood the fourth summer, with subsequent annual movements between wintering and breeding grounds.

The Pacific population has increased 70% since 1960, apparently all by intrinsic growth. Over half (57%) of the fledglings reach their fourth year, and they have a subsequent annual survival rate of 89% and a mean breeding life expectancy of 8.6 yr. An average annual fledging rate of 0.64 young per pair was calculated as necessary to have provided the observed growth of the population during its recent expansion. Growth of some of the individual colonies, however, particularly those in Washington, could only have resulted from extensive recruitment of birds from other Pacific Coast colonies. Philopatry is low in this population, and the growth of the northern colonies involved recruitment primarily of first- time breeders but also of some older adults. Factors promoting both first-time breeders and older adults to join new and often distant colonies are discussed.

Publication Year 1983
Title Pacific Coast Caspian Terns: Dynamics of an expanding population
Authors Robert E. Gill, L. Richard Mewaldt
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title The Auk
Index ID 70185098
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center