WEST SEATTLE BIRDS: Here’s why you’re hearing/seeing Caspian Terns less often

That’s a Caspian Tern, photographed in May by James Tilley. Even if you can’t recall seeing one (or more), their distinctive prehistoric-esque call has been unmistakable in flyovers (you can hear it here). In past years they’ve frequently flown over West Seattle on their way to and from a nesting spot on a rooftop near the eastern shore of the Duwamish River – one where last year’s record heat wave killed more than 100 of their chicks. This year, community naturalist Kersti Muul says, they didn’t return to nest at that spot. But they didn’t go far, she learned after research – they’re on a roof at the south end of the downtown waterfront, near the Coast Guard station. (They’re easy to hear, we learned while driving northbound on East Marginal Way toward downtown late last night.) She says more than 1,000 terns are there, but so far they don’t seem to be nesting, which means they’re two months behind schedule – usually by now, nesting season is far enough along that some of the babies are starting to take short flights.

P.S. We asked Kersti what if anything community members can do to help the terns, Here’s her reply:

This is a link for SCAN (Seattle Conservation Action Network). Seattle Audubon will notify you when opportunities arise to advocate for a Seattle-area cities where people and birds thrive. It’s a good tool to streamline advocacy on big items; people don’t have to search around.

Also, the terns were impacted by an extreme weather event last year related to climate change. We are losing canopy cover [trees] at an alarming rate throughout Seattle and King County, both illegally and legally. I urge people to be thoughtful and climate-focused when considering tree work and removals. While we are working hard to get better tree protection laws, we can simply choose to protect ourselves, our climate, our neighbors; human and non-human, by advocating for tree retention. Urban heat islands are increasing, and urban habitat is severely fragmented, and lacking. Trees are vital to the success of all species.

13 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE BIRDS: Here's why you're hearing/seeing Caspian Terns less often"

  • Trileigh July 2, 2022 (8:16 pm)

    So glad to get this update after last year’s tragedy, and I’m so relieved they didn’t try to nest there this year. I sure hope those terns can raise their families successfully this year. It’s always wonderful to hear those “prehistoric” (great term) croaks as they fly over!

    • Kersti Elisabeth Muul July 2, 2022 (11:35 pm)

      They are still on a roof, so no difference there, and it is actually much higher than the T106 building. They do fine in *normal* heat.Will post a comment with more, information as there is more going on here.

  • Junctioneer July 2, 2022 (9:22 pm)

    We still hear and see them up on North Admiral. I’m not contesting that they may be more infrequent, but they do have a presence. Thanks for the info, would love an update if they end up nesting.

  • Kersti Elisabeth Muul July 2, 2022 (11:48 pm)

    The terns were on the T106 building up until the third week of June. They normally would have laid eggs in May, so they chose not to, even before moving camp to the new building. The new building is a lot higher than the T106 building so their rooftop roosting/nesting habits have not changed. In early June I documented a previously unseen behavior; the nesting peregrines were chasing individual terns and also flushed the entire colony from the T106 roof several times in 20 minutes. It is unclear to me at this point if this could be why they jumped ship.I figured out where they went and took photos to see numbers and if nesting.  (Grid is for counting) all individuals appear the same size and all have black caps/white bodies of adults. I did not witness any feeding or begging behaviors. I did witness several bringing fish back to the colony.I am hearing of lower numbers in other colonies in the region as well. I will continue to monitor for nesting and keep researching why they may have moved, and why they moved at the time they did and why they are so late nesting (if they end up nesting)I can’t get my drone photo attached here so will try in a stand alone comment.

  • Kersti Elisabeth Muul July 3, 2022 (12:02 am)

    Here is the drone photo we took on Thursday. Grid is to help count individuals.

  • letsgo July 3, 2022 (12:29 pm)

    Just signed up for SCAN. Thank you, Kersti and WSB for helping us find an action-oriented path for our collective voices!  So much better than bathing in the despair and anger of internet forums and over the fence conversations with our neighbors. Audubon is such a stand up organization, as well. Thank you, Seattle Audubon.

  • Morgan July 3, 2022 (1:01 pm)

    Could there be something Port of Seattle could do on roofs to support or accommodate nesting long term, make healthier environment?

    • Kersti Elisabeth Muul July 3, 2022 (10:38 pm)

      The port doesn’t want them there.Also that building is being demolished soon.

  • Jeff B. July 3, 2022 (3:55 pm)

     Unfortunately these birds are on the wrong side of history as global warming increases. These birds won’t be here in 20 years, maybe less. People like to complain about gas prices,  but each time we fill up is another nail in the coffin for this species and many more.  

    • Kersti Elisabeth Muul July 3, 2022 (10:40 pm)

      We are all on the wrong side. These birds will be around 20 years from now…they will nest in a more natural place and will do fine. 

  • Ann July 5, 2022 (11:45 am)

    James – another gorgeous photo – of these  gorgeous birds. Love the juxtaposition with the “Galaxy Gold” Needle. Thanks for sharing this.  And thanks as always to Kersti for sharing solid information.

  • Jen B July 17, 2022 (7:30 am)

    The past two months I have been hearing an unfamiliar bird sound in my neighborhood. I think it’s the Caspian Tern. It sounds like a lot ruckus. I live in North Beacon Hill pretty close to the old veterans hospital / original Amazon headquarters. There’s a pretty good canopy of trees here. 

  • Joy Estill July 20, 2022 (8:16 am)

    I work at the CG site. I have noticed that there are no pigeons right now , even though we used to be inundated with their cooing and strutting. (lots of feathers on the ground though)

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