An interesting tidbit didn’t get into my story today about the proposed downgrading of the California least tern’s endangered status.

Robert Patton, the biologist who’s an expert on the least tern, said he was concerned that the tern’s population estimates were overblown. He said the actual population could be hundreds of pairs fewer than estimated.

The estimate of 7,100 tern pairs comes from examining nests at each site throughout the state where the birds are found. But the birds sometimes build new nests after others get abandoned or pillaged by predators. Scientists have no way of knowing whether birds’ nests are their second attempt at nesting, Patton said.

The birds migrate to the region in middle and late April; build their nests in early May and the first chicks hatch by late May or early June, Patton said.

The population “may be grossly inflated,” Patton said. “There’s a fear that some of these numbers may be misconstrued.”


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