by Lillia Fuller, Contributing Writer

The Gulf Coast Least Terns have been around for years, nesting and raising young on our local beaches. They previously nested on the Barrier Islands, but were first found nesting on the mainland in 1936.

After our sandy coastline was created in 1952, our beaches became their main nesting ground to nurture their young. Today you’ll see roped off areas and flags indicating their presence. 

There are five separate nesting beaches: Biloxi Beach, Gulfport East, Gulfport West, Long Beach, and Pass Christian. Our Harrison County nesting colony is the largest in the world!

Unfortunately, our coastal least terns are on the decline. This year there was an estimated amount of only 1,300 pairs, 22% less than last year.

During the 2020-2021 nesting period, there was almost no productivity. Most nests were destroyed or blown away by hurricanes and storms. The Pass Christian and Long Beach colonies have experienced failure with chicks this year.

The Red Fox has been stealing and eating eggs during the incubation period, which usually takes around 3 weeks. 

The first fledglings since 2019 have been spotted, a great sign! The Audubon Society and Coastal Stewardship program aim to reduce harming factors and mitigate issues like habitat loss, coastal development, climate change, and human related issues.

The community is advised to pick up trash and fishing lines, volunteering our time to the stewardship program, spreading the word with #sharetheshore, keeping pets on a leash, and not disturbing the beach wildlife (including NOT feeding them).

(Photo by Kaylin Bruening)