September 30, 2020
Least Terns Return to the East End Beach
By Aaron Given, Wildlife Biologist
For the first time since 2009, Least Terns successfully nested in large numbers on the east end of Kiawah’s beach! Prior to this year’s nesting season, Town Biologists identified two areas east of the Ocean Course that had good potential nesting habitat. At the end of March, these areas were closed to public access and marked with almost 100 yellow “Bird Nesting Area” signs. In April, the birds started showing up. Wilson’s Plovers and American Oystercatchers were the first to arrive, displaying courtship behaviors and defending territories against rivals. In early May, the Least Terns chose the marked nesting area furthest east of the Ocean Course for nesting, and by the end of May there were an estimated 150 nests. In fact, there were several nests that were laid outside of the designated area and the signs had to be moved out toward the beach to protect them. In June, most of the chicks had hatched and were running around the nesting area waiting for their parents to bring back a fishy meal. By early July, the chicks had grown large enough to fly and activity at the nesting area had almost come to an end.
For the last several years, a sandbar has been forming off the east end of Kiawah. Currently, the sandbar is very large and less than ½ mile from Kiawah. At low tide, it is exposed and usually covered with resting gulls, terns, and pelicans. This sandbar has been reshaping the east end beach and in turn has helped to create perfect nesting conditions for beach-nesting birds. The sand has built up enough to protect the nests from being overwashed during storms and high tides. Additionally, the location is far enough away from the main part of the Kiawah to reduce the pressures from mammalian predators like raccoons. This area should continue to build as the sandbar works its way toward Kiawah and barring any major erosional events, the Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers, and American Oystercatchers should be back to Kiawah next year for another successful nesting season.
If you have questions, email Aaron Given at firstname.lastname@example.org