Elegant Terns Find Place to Nest at Port of Long Beach
By Thomas Anderson

Elegant Tern in the Port of Long BeachElegant Terns find barges in the Port of Long
Beach suitable for nesting after fleeing
the Bolsa Chica.
While it is not unusual for Elegant Terns to nest at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, they almost always make that choice before laying eggs. We often see them gather in large numbers at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve (BCER) in early spring when the birds are making a collective decision to stay at Bolsa Chica or go to the Ports. 2021 was different. Rarely do Elegant Terns abandon their nests while they are incubating eggs. When a drone crashed onto Tern Island at the Reserve in May, that’s exactly what happened. Thousands of eggs were abandoned. All was not lost, however, though the Terns’ recovery would not have been as successful without the intervention of several concerned groups and individuals.

By June, approximately 6,000 Elegant Terns had begun nesting on barges near the Queen Mary that were filled with large rocks destined for repair of the jetties at the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. Although few of the birds were banded, tern experts including Mike Horn of California State University, Fullerton and Charles Collins of California State University, Long Beach surmised that they were likely to have been terns that abandoned Bolsa Chica. Nesting was successful, and by early July the young, curious nestlings began wandering too close to the edges of the barges and fell into the water. Unable to fly, and without waterproof feathers, human intervention was needed.

Elegant Terns in the Port of Long BeachJuvenile terns that were rescued after
falling off the barges.

California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW), International Bird Rescue (IBR), California Science Center, Aquarium of the Pacific, Los Cerritos Wetlands Trust, Heal the Bay and other private citizens with boats came to the rescue. Since terns need to be with their parents until they have fledged, birds healthy enough to pass triage were put back on the barges. About 635 birds with more serious injuries were taken to various care centers and later returned to the barges.

In order to prevent further injuries, IBR built special rafts that anchored to the barges to catch any wandering young terns. In all, 3200 terns were saved and eventually fledged. Many were seen foraging at the BCER through the end of August before migrating.

Elegant Terns in the Port of Long BeachTerns utilizing the rafts built by
International Bird Rescure and placed
next to the barges.
All Photos by Melissa Loebl.
The rescue efforts gave authorities the opportunity to band many young birds. Reporting the bands will help us better understand Elegant Tern migration, dispersal, life span and estimating survival and productivity. To learn how to report a banded bird, visit https://www.birdrescue.org/contact/found-a-bird/reporting-a-banded-bird/.

Drone update

While the drone crash on Tern Island is still under investigation by the Orange County District Attorney’s office, BCER Manager Melissa Loebl is working with CDFW leaders in Sacramento on several fronts. First, two of three apps used by drone operators have agreed to note that Bolsa Chica is restricted airspace. They are working on language to make it clear that drones are not permitted in any California Ecological Reserve. They are also working with the FAA to ensure the BCER is shown as restricted airspace, and they’re working with California State Parks to enforce prohibition at Bolsa Chica State Beach (where 50% of drones seen at the BCER originate).

The Bolsa Chica Land Trust recently used a post card campaign to successfully lobby CDFW leadership for more warden presence at the Bolsa Chica. If you spot a drone at the BCER and no warden is present, call CalTip at 888-334-2258. All of these efforts contribute to educating people about appropriate behavior in an Ecological Reserve.