A Thriving Nest for Elegant Terns

The stability of Elegant Terns, which visit Santa Cruz, CA annually, requires Rasa Island to remain invasive predator free.

By: Emily Heber

Sitting on the beach in Santa Cruz, California one can see a variety of seabirds that return to the beach town every summer. One such bird is the Elegant Tern (Thalasseus elegans) with a black and white body and a bright orange beak. Santa Cruz is only one stop on the distinctive Elegant Tern’s long journey.

Elegant Terns live along the Pacific coast all the way from Central California to the Gulf of California, Mexico. Although they are spread along the coast, almost 95% of their breeding is restricted to Rasa Island in the Gulf of California. Elegant Terns are considered Near Threatened by the International Union Conservation of Nature and are particularly vulnerable to threats posed by invasive species.


An Elegant Tern flies overhead in Santa Cruz, CA. Credit: Claudio Uribe

In 2009 conservationists took on a conservation intervention project on Rasa Island, where invasive rodents were preying on nesting Elegant Terns. This successful removal gave the seabirds a much-needed population boost. Bernie Tershy, co-founder of Island Conservation, was part of the team that evaluated the Elegant Terns population.


A flock of Elegant Terns in Santa Cruz, CA. Credit: Claudio Uribe

Conservationists are now concerned that changing climates could affect the global Elegant Tern population. Their populations fluctuate naturally with El Niño Southern Oscillation events during which ocean water warms and seabird food resources decrease, but prolonged climatic change could spell serious trouble for the seabirds.

Protecting their breeding habitat and understanding long term population trends for the species is vital to ensuring they remain stable throughout their natural range and continue to return to Santa Cruz.

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Featured Photo: An Elegant Tern flying. Credit: Claudio Uribe
Source: International Union for the Conservation of Nature

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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