Least Terns Return to St. Croix and Buck Island

Least terns on Buck Island Reef National Monument (photo by Solvin Zanki)

According to Buck Island Reef National Monument, there has been a return of least terns to Buck Island’s West Beach.

Buck Island Reef National Monument is one of 15 known nesting sites on St. Croix for the least tern (Sterna antillarum antillarum), which is a locally protected migratory sea bird. Every year, between April and May, the least terns return to St. Croix to nest, and they typically choose West Beach at Buck Island as one of their nesting spots.

A group of about 20 adults has arrived at Buck Island and is establishing their nesting colony on the southeastern end of West Beach. The colony can grow to over 100 birds. To ensure protection for the colony, eggs and chicks, the National Park Service has closed the southeastern section of beach from the sand spur point to the pier (south). The area is marked with signs, ropes/stakes and warning tape.

The terns lay small speckled, sand-colored eggs in shallow depressions on the open beach. Both adults take turns sitting on the eggs, foraging for food, and protecting and incubating the eggs. They are easily disturbed by people walking nearby and will leave the eggs and fly toward the invader. Every time a tern flies off the nest during the day, the eggs or chicks are exposed to excessive heat from direct sunlight and to possible predation.

The National Park Service asks that visitors to the park adhere to the closure and not walk toward or around the closed area. The NPS has allowed multiple use activities to continue alongside the tern nesting; however, the NPS superintendent will be forced to close the beach if the colony success is threatened (36 CFR Sec. 1.5 Closures and Public Use Limits).

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