About the California Least Tern

California least tern and chicks
The endangered California least tern bird species occupies a protected nesting site adjacent to the Port of Los Angeles’ largest container terminal on Pier 400. This aerial fish-foraging bird, known as the “least" tern since it is the smallest of the tern species, travels from its wintering grounds in Central and South America to Southern California to nest from April through August. Amazingly, the geographic extent of its wintering range is still not known, but California least terns have been reported as far south as Brazil. California least tern are protected by both the Federal and State Endangered Species Acts.
Monitoring of the colony has been in place since 1973. Historically, California least tern have nested at various locations at the Port of Los Angeles, including Reeves Field and Ferry Street on Pier 300, before these areas were developed. Since 1997, following creation of Pier 400 and preparation of a 15-acre nesting site, least tern have nested only on Pier 400. Through an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Port of Los Angeles maintains, monitors, and protects this site for the nesting of these indigenous birds.

Site Monitoring at Pier 400

Monitoring of the California least terns is conducted by licensed and very experienced avian biologists, and managed by Port staff—although, “monitoring” is a limited term because there is much more involved in protecting this species! Every year, long before the least terns arrive, the site is evaluated, a strategy for site management is outlined, and then the work begins. In short, there is vegetation to remove, a chick fence to repair, notifications to prevent flying over the site during nesting, and predator species to relocate. People who work in the area receive training on how to avoid disturbing the birds. During the nesting season nest counts are performed twice per week, other species are managed so they do not damage the tiny least tern eggs and chicks, predators are shooed away, and keen observers keep a look out for the types of fish the least terns are eating.